Apple’s glass Force Touch trackpads have long been one of the best features on the MacBook Pro (opens in new tab) and Air laptops. Now, the folks at Cupertino could go one step further and add glass keycaps to future MacBook keyboards.
An Apple patent application (opens in new tab) has been published by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) detailing how a glass polymer could be used as transparent keycaps allowing for light and “glyphs” to be seen through them. The keycaps themselves will be curved inward so as to reduce the stress of being hit thousands upon thousands of times.
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See-through glass keycaps could offer more durability than plastic keycaps. Also, the symbols that are normally printed upon them can be placed below them, preventing sustained use from wearing the symbols away.
Apple’s patent explains that a light-blocking layer will be used beneath the keys and above a blacklight to effectively allow the keyboard symbols to be defined and illuminated underneath the keycaps. However, the entire key will be illuminated, which could give Apple the potential to get more creative with its keyboard backlighting.
But durability seems to be the key here, with Apple seemingly acknowledging that low-travel plastic keycaps, such as those in the pre-Magic Keyboard MacBooks, trade longevity for aesthetics.
“Many visually pleasing solutions lack the durability for such extended function. This can be especially true when electronic devices and/or associated input devices are made smaller, thinner, or otherwise reduced in dimension,” Apple’s transparent keycaps patent noted. “Reduced dimensions of keycaps, for example, can lead to keycaps that are less structurally sound and have a shorter lifetime than thicker keycaps made of the same material.”
After dropping the Butterfly mechanism of its older MacBooks and moving towards the scissor-switch mechanism first shown off in the MacBook Pro 16-inch (opens in new tab), Apple’s MacBook keyboards have received more praise. But going by this patent, Apple clearly thinks it can do better.
The patent was filed in May 2019, so there’s an outside chance that next-generation MacBooks could come with glass keycaps. But we wouldn't expect to see them before 2021.