People are now texting on touchscreens nearly as fast as they type on physical keyboard, but why not get the best of both worlds?
As the March 2018 application filed in January 2019 states, these ‘Static Pattern Electrostatic Haptic Electrodes’ are an evolution of the haptic vibrations you find in current smartphones to give you feedback as you press virtual keys and buttons. Instead of just activating the vibration motor when you pressed a key, the proposed system would use different voltages on different areas of the display, which would feel different as you held your finger
This would be enabled by the positioning of conductive material around the edges of the virtual keys, which would feel like there was an indentation in the middle of the keys despite the fact it’s still a flat surface.
The image above is one of the illustrations including with the application, and shows one potential layout of the electrostatic material (the shaded areas) for one virtual key. The blank 'voids' in the middle and smaller ones surrounding them show how the indentation effect would work. as larger gaps mean less touch resistance.
The image below shows how these individual keys could be placed on each edge of the display of an iPad-like tablet device where users were likely to type. The patent does indicate that this technology could apply to other devices too, including MacBooks and iPhones.
This isn’t the only kind of keyboard innovation Apple has been looking into. A patent awarded to Apple in January of this year for its MacBooks depicted a flexible glass keyboard. Beyond that, we’ve also seen patents for a couple of foldable phone designs, showing that Apple is indeed considering its own take on the Samsung Galaxy Fold or the Huawei Mate X.
Naturally, the normal warnings concerning patents applies here. The electrostatic keyboard or any of the other ideas mentioned in this piece may never make it to purchasable products. Even if they did, it might be several years before these concepts are implemented. So by all means be excited by this application, but don’t expect to find it on the iPhone 12.