Apple Patents MacBook Keys With Built-In Displays, Touch Sensors And Haptic Feedback

Apple may be planning a big upgrade for the standard computer keyboard, according to a new patent filing published by the USPTO and spotted by AppleInsider today. The filing describes a notebook keyboard that has keys which integrate miniature displays, touch sensors and haptic feedback motors all into a single small package, making it possible to give future MacBooks highly customizable keyboards with touch gesture support.

The keyboard would be somewhat like the Optimus Maximus dedicated hardware you may have heard about – that $1,600 keyboard featured keys with built-in 64×64 OLED displays that could be programmed to display whatever the user wants. But Apple’s design would greatly reduce the cost of components, making it far more feasible to see this included in a laptop that itself probably costs less than $1,600.

Apple’s keyboard would not only offer micro displays in each key that could display different images and animations depending on what program you were using or the language of the user. It could also use its capacitive touch sensors to render input akin to that you’d generally make using a MacBook’s touchpad. You could swipe across the keyboard to page through websites or ebooks, for instance, or swipe up and down across the keys to scroll.

Finally, the key stacks also feature haptic feedback devices, which would let them use either vibrations, clicks or variable resistance to offers custom key responses to typing, or vibration notifications for alerts and different kinds of on-screen events.

The Optimus Maximus really captured a lot of geeky imaginations back when it debuted in 2007, I remember, so Apple building that into shipping Macs as a wide-release product would be the stuff of dreams. As always, however, a patent is not necessarily a product plan, and it seems like there would be significant work involved in making this kind of keyboard anywhere close to as cost-effective as a traditional version.