Apple Patents The Invisible Button

One of Apple’s famous minimalist design principles is to get rid of buttons whenever possible. With touchscreen devices like the iPhone and iPad, almost all of the buttons appear when needed on the screen. But what about Macbooks with aluminum casings? A new patent application titled “Disappearing Button or Slider” shows that Apple is at least thinking about how to bring elements of touch computing to all devices by replacing buttons and other controls with capacitive controls which appear only when needed.

The patent describes a way to create backlit micro-perforated holes on the aluminum casing of a MacBook or other device which could be used for buttons on the lid when the laptop is closed or below the keyboard when it is open. The buttons could serve as simple displays for WiFi signal or battery strength, control playlists and volume for iTunes songs or movies, or even replace the trackpad. AppleInsider notes

The input appears invisible to the user because it would be made of the same material as the housing it is contained in. The use of “invisible” backlit holes could make the input selectively visible or invisible for the user.

One illustration included with the application shows an iPod-like control wheel located to the left of the notebook’s trackpad. Such controls could be displayed with the touch of a finger, and then disappear when they are not in use — such as when a user’s wrist is resting in that area for typing on the keyboard.

Buttons are so over.