It looks like Apple might have a new set of keyboards in the pipeline. A newly-published patent offers a glimpse into what Cupertino’s finest have been beavering away on in their top-secret labs.
The tech described is one designed to protect Apple keyboards from water and dust ingress, but the drawings show an entirely new kind of keyboard that could suggest the company is working on a keyboard with an integrated trackpad. This could be used with Macs, while docked or it could even suggest a new type of Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro.
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The cut and thrust of the words in the patent describe a new membrane which could be used to catch liquids and particles before permeating into the sensitive electronics contained within. As is common in a patent, this is quite wide in its scope and there’s not one material named as being part of the design. Apple describes it as the following:
“Flexible structure, such as, for example, a flexible membrane, fabric, mesh, woven material, knitted material, or composite layer, can provide flexible bridges or interkey supports between the keycaps that, in combination with the keycaps, make a substantially continuous, smoothed, consistent-visual-appearance, sound-muting, and ingress-resistant top surface and interkey covering for the input device.”
Drawings included show a number of different weave designs that the company is considering. There’s a fairly straightforward lattice design along with a more complicated interlocking mesh that appears far more intricate. The patent also mentions a sealing material that could be applied to these mesh designs to ensure a better seal against nasties getting inside.
While the drawings make it seem like Apple might be about to change things in portable keyboards it’s likely that these designed could be most effectively applied to Macs. It’s certainly possible that a stand-alone unit, with a touchpad, is being developed, bit it’s somewhat less likely and not the focus of the actual patent here.
There is some mention of using a stylus later in the patent, which says: “a user instrument such as a finger or stylus can be moved across the top surfaces of the flexible layer 200 and/or keycaps 103, 206 and can be used to control the electronic device in a manner separate from the actuation of switch structures 302 that are actuated by pressing down a keycap 103/206 to mechanically, capacitively, or electrically actuate a switch.”
This implies there’s a kind of touch sensitivity proposed in this keyboard that might make it work with, say, an Apple pencil. That could certainly apply to the trackpad area, which, probably should already have support for the pencil in some form as it would be great.
The patent, which was released to the public on April 1, was first filed with the USPTO back in September 2019. That could mean that Apple is further along with the development of these new keyboard options than is often the case with these patent applications.
It certainly makes sense for Apple to consider new ways to safeguard keyboards from water and dust damage. Considering that dust remained a common culprit for keyboard malfunctions on Apple's redesigned butterfly switches, this new design could prevent future class-action lawsuits.
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Ian has been involved in technology journalism since 2007, originally writing about AV hardware back when LCDs and plasma TVs were just gaining popularity. Nearly 15 years on, he remains as excited as ever about how tech can make your life better. Ian is the editor of T3.com but has also regularly contributed to Tom's Guide.