Future iPads and iPad Pros could get an all-new kind of keyboard that replaces the trackpad of the Magic Keyboard with touch-sensitive areas on the sides of the keyboard. This could let users perform gestures by tapping and swiping near the keyboard instead of on it.
The "Portable Computing Input Devices and Methods" patent (via Patently Apple) is a whopping 217 pages long and full of many small and granular improvements to keyboard designs. But the new concept for an iPad keyboard peripheral is the one that's caught our eye, even if it never becomes a final product.
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Instead of a trackpad, this patent features "touch sensitive strips" along the left and right edges and microphones built into the base. The microphones aren't for Siri commands, though; they're for detecting swipe and tap inputs made on the surface you've set your iPad up on, and translating them into the gestures you'd normally make on a trackpad. That's just as well, as these touch strips don't look wide enough for normal trackpad-style duties.
The patent also discusses changing some of the keys around to remove less-frequently used ones and combining the functions of others to save space. This would not only apply to physical keyboards but also to the virtual keyboards found on iPhones and iPads, which the patent says can be small and difficult to interact with.
The keys on the Magic Keyboard concept could also be force sensitive. For example, pressing an arrow key with different amounts of pressure would let you scroll through a webpage at different speeds, or pressing the spacebar harder than normal would let you insert a paragraph break.
Apple's Magic Keyboard peripheral for the latest generation of iPad Pro allows you to use the flagship tablet as something close to a traditional laptop. It uses the same key switches as the Magic Keyboard on the MacBook Pro, a far better input method than the old Butterfly Keyboard, and offers a trackpad for easier navigation. However it is a heavy and costly peripheral that doesn't quite have enough apps optimized for it yet.
The design of the iPad in the illustrations still has the home button of the cheaper iPad models like the standard iPad or iPad Air. Hopefully this means that we'll eventually get a replacement for the non-Magic Keyboard Type Covers that are currently the only official accessories of this kind that Apple sells.