Would you be interested in buying a MacBook that didn’t have a physical keyboard? Apple has just been awarded a new patent (opens in new tab) for a dual-screen MacBook device, which utilizes a virtual keyboard instead.
So instead of typing away on physical keys, you’ll be using what could easily be an enlarged version of the Touch Bar. As weird as that sounds, it still feels like a better option than the much-maligned Butterfly keyboard.
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According to Patently Apple (opens in new tab) this virtual keyboard could be customized, with users able to swap the position of the keyboard and trackpad, as well as support for ergonomic designs and different keyboard layouts. That would be especially useful from a production standpoint, since Apple could create one MacBook without having to adapt the keyboard for each region.
And for those of you worried about using the smooth, glossy finish of a touchscreen compared to the tactile feel of physical buttons, you’re in luck. The idea here is that the virtual keyboard will also offer haptic and audio feedback, designed to “deliver a natural keyboard experience.”
Presumably that will involve an audible clicking sound and a haptic response to tell you that you’ve actually hit the key correctly, something touchscreen keyboards generally lack.
But if the user prefers, there could also be an option for a mechanical keyboard add-on that sits on top of the virtual display. Also detailed are multiple Touch ID sensors along the front of the MacBook, Face ID, and a wireless charger in the bottom left-hand corner.
The patent also mentions that the virtual keyboard could be used as a game controller, while also potentially offering different kinds of touch input. Gestures, multi touch, swiping, and all those other things that are available on iPhone and iPads, but not on the touchscreen-free MacBooks.
To top it all off, there would also be a palm rejection system in place, so you can rest your hands and wrists on the area that doubles as a trackpad, without actually causing any problems.
Could we see this dual screen MacBook one day?
The thing about patents is that having them isn’t the same as planning to use them. Sure Apple may have worked up several designs to show how a virtual MacBook keyboard could work, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be happening anytime soon.
Especially seeing as how this would be pretty ambitious. Dual-screen laptops do exist, but they’re not exactly common and they haven’t taken off in any meaningful way. Part of that will be down to the fact that replacing a keyboard with a touchscreen isn’t as easy as adding a second virtual display.
Touchscreen keyboards work for basic phone and tablet use, but typing on a touchscreen panel is totally different to typing on a physical keyboard with physical buttons. Particularly if you touch-type, since physical keys are a lot easier to use without looking.
Apple’s patent goes someway to trying to solve this issue, but we’d have to see it for real to say whether it works or not. Ideas may sound good on paper, but they don’t always pan out the way they should.
Like the infamous Butterfly keyboard, which was supposed to offer the keys more space to move, while being thinner than traditional scissor switch keyboards. Obviously that didn’t work out so well, given how universally loathed butterfly keyboards are.
The virtual keyboard panel is an interesting idea, but it’s not likely one we’ll be seeing anytime soon. Barring a few flawed designs that make their may to production, physical keyboards are pretty fool proof mechanisms. And changing that for something less reliable doesn’t do anyone any favors.
We will just have to see what Apple does over the next several years.