APPLE'S BUTTERFLY MECHANISM on its recent MacBook models haven't exactly won people over like the keys did on the OG MacBook Air. But the Cupertino crew could be changing all that with a new glass panel keyboard.
That's according to a patent spied by the folks over at AppleInsider, which suggests that Apple isn't going back to making traditional keyboard mechanisms any time soon.
Rather, the patent suggests that Apple's future MacBook models will use a glass sheet that replaces traditional movable keys; not that the shallow travel of the Butterfly mechanism keyboards felt particularly moveable.
Instead of depressing keys, the glass panel will have raised "key" sections that would supposedly replicate the tactile feel of the moving keys that MacBook fans are used to when banging out an angry email about to their chosen joint collaboration workspace not having chai lattes up to the standard of these made by Harry Hipster's Coffee and 'yah' Chill Emporium.
The raised sections will, according to the patent, detect when a user hits them with a typing force and react accordingly.
Without key travel, one might question how easily touch typing can be facilitated on such a keyboard. But Apple's patent suggests that by having raised side walls around the raised key region that could flex on contact, a form of springiness to the keyboard could be provided and thus some feedback to the typing experience.
Yet at the same time, there would still be a glass panel that would stop dirt and dust from clogging the keyboard, as was the problem with the Butterfly mechanism-based keyboards, which really didn't seem to like muck getting under their shallow travel keys.
It might seem like a slightly over-engineered concept to solve a problem that could be fixed by having keys with a pleasant 1.4mm of travel, but then Apple isn't a firm that likes to backtrack much.
One interesting thing about the future use of a glass panel is that they keys could allow the key symbols to be changed on the fly with the use of a secondary display under the glass to suit the application or task a user is carrying out, a bit like the Touch Bar on Apple's higher-end MacBook Pro models. Such an approach might be worth the sacrifice of a traditional typing experience for more keyboard flexibility and functionality.
And AppleInsider suggests that the use of a glass panel could mean a thinner keyboard, which would free-up space under it to pop in a bigger battery into MacBook Pro models or further slim down devices like the already trim 12in MacBook.
Of course, this glass keyboard concept is barely that and just a patent at the moment, as far as we know. And Apple patents a lot of stuff that doesn't come to fruition, so a MacBook with a glass keyboard might never see the light of day, or more correctly the blazing light of an Apple Store.
Still, it would inject a bit of innovation into Apple's MacBook line up, which we feel is currently treading water a tad, what with the nice but underwhelming MacBook Air. µ
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