Apple has been granted a patent (number 10,963,117) for a “configurable force-sensitive input structure for electronic devices” that hints at a future Mac laptop with a configurable, all-touch surface.
In the patent data, Apple says that conventional input devices, such as keyboards or track pads for a laptop, are susceptible to damage. For example, debris and other contaminants may enter the casing of the electronic device through the keycap apertures and may subsequently damage the internal components of the electronic device. The damage to the internal components may render the electronic device inoperable. Likewise, the mechanical structures forming the input devices may be especially vulnerable to a drop or mechanical shock.
Apple adds that because many conventional input devices have a number of components positioned both inside and outside the casing of the electronic device, the risk of component failure may increase. That is, in combination with some components being positioned on the outside of the casing where a number of components are used to form each of the conventional input devices, if a single component is damaged, lost, or becomes inoperable, the entire input device may become inoperable.
Apple’s alternative: touch keyboards, along with touch trackpads, that still depress enough to offer a bit of feedback similar to a traditional keyboard. The laptop design would also offer configuration options to fit specific user needs.
Here’s the summary of the patent: “A configurable, force-sensitive input structure for an electronic device is disclosed. The input structure has a metal contact layer, a sense layer positioned below the metal contact layer, and a drive layer capacitively coupled to the sense layer. The input structure may also have a compliant layer positioned between and coupled to the sense layer and the drive layer, a rigid base layer positioned below the drive layer, and a set of supports positioned between the metal contact layer and the rigid base layer.”