Patent applications aren’t usually the most exciting of things but Apple isn’t your usual kind of company. The latest patent to be filed by the Cupertino outfit, and found by MacRumors, is for a new type of keyboard that the company believes could remove the need for a separate pointing device.
FingerWorks, a company acquired by Apple all the way back in 2005, has been working on touch-sensitive keyboards for a while. They’ve made many keyboards over the years but they’ve all fallen at the same hurdle: people like tactile feedback from a keyboard. It’s the reason people still use the same keyboard they did 10 years ago – it just needs to feel ‘right’.
Apple clearly knows what it’s up against when it comes to designing a whole new type of keyboard:
Over the last forty years there have been numerous attempts made to introduce an alternative to the standard keyboard. The changes include, but are not limited to, non-QWERTY layouts, concave and convex surfaces, capacitive keys, split designs, membrane keys, etc. However, although such alternative keyboards may provide improved usability or ergonomics, they have failed to replace or duplicate the commercial success of the conventional mechanical keyboard.
Now, FingerWorks co-founder John Elias has submitted a patent for a physical keyboard that incorporates touch in new and rather interesting ways.
So how does a physical keyboard also work as a mouse? The patent is for a keyboard incorporating a row of four ‘slot cameras’ that can track finger movement just above the keyboard’s surface. The tracking could be activated by a specific key, or combination of key strokes.
It’s an interesting take on the problem of replacing the mouse: a pointing device that’s been around longer than most peripherals. Perhaps it’s time we moved on.
Perhaps Apple’s the company to make us.