Apple is researching ways to make a virtual Mac keyboard with keys that feel real

A recent patent application filed by Apple shows the company is continuing to research ways to make a virtual keyboard for Macs.

Apple has been interested in virtual keyboards for a while now, filing patents for virtual keyboards starting in 2006, according to Patently Apple, but this recent application details how Apple could create virtual keys that feel like physical ones by using Apple’s Taptic technology.

Apple first introduced its own version of haptic feedback, called the Taptic Engine, with the Apple Watch as a way for the device to vibrate or “tap” users on the wrist. More recently, Apple has incorporated its Taptic Engine into the new Force Touch trackpad on the new MacBook and 13-inch MacBook Pro , which allows for the sensation of “clicking” the trackpad even though it’s not actually physically moving.

The patent filing details how Apple could incorporate this technology into a keyless, virtual Mac keyboard created on planar metallic surface similar to its Magic Trackpad. Using the Taptic Engine and actuators under each virtual key, Apple could make it feel like you’re physically pressing down on a key even when there’s no physical keys to be moved.

So what’s the big deal?

While there’s no guarantee that an Apple patent filing ever makes its way from a lab experiment into a consumer product, TechCrunch points out that Apple could theoretically use a virtual keyboard to slim down future MacBook laptops or create a slim new version of its Bluetooth keyboard for iMac, iPhone, and iPad.

Apple could also introduce different kind of key presses, such as a Force Touch press, to allow people to access additional letters, emojis, or even as a quick-shift key.

It certainly seems like Apple is interested in using its Taptic Engine in technologies beyond just the Apple Watch, and the Mac keyboard seems like a viable option.

For a deeper dive into Apple’s latest patent filing, head on over to Patently Apple.

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