Apple was recently rewarded a patent for a new keyboard design that could possibly replace the mouse or track pad. The newly approved patent describes a keyboard that could have up to 4 separate cameras or sensors implanted into the keyboard. The keyboard could then track hand movements on the keyboard much like a track pad can do today. Users could navigate through windows and applications by using gestures right on the keyboard or even change the keyboard layout.
In one embodiment, a motion sensitive mechanical keyboard can utilize orthogonally-oriented cameras to sense hand/finger motion over the surface of the keys. This arrangement can enable a standard look and feel mechanical keyboard to receive command and cursor input (e.g., pointing and gestures) from the user without requiring the user to move the user’s hand off the keyboard. The image processing techniques can be utilized to minimize or remove undesirable cursor movement that can occur based on certain detected hand/finger motion from such cameras.
Apple goes on to explain that there have been numerous attempts to make new alternate keyboard designs. However none have been able to duplicate the success of the original mechanical keyboard.
Conventional mechanical keyboards are generally accepted as the preferred means to provide textual input. These keyboards have mechanical keys that are configured to move independently of one another and comply with standards for key spacing and actuation force. These keyboards are also arranged in the so-called QWERTY layout. 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.
The patent also tells us there may be 2 separate modes of operation in the keyboard. The first mode would be typing mode where they keyboard would ignore gestures and movements except for typing. The second mode will be a mouse mode that will allow for the navigation features and gestures that you would get from Mac products today.
Keyboard 100 can operate in two or more distinct modes in one embodiment: e.g., a typing mode and a mouse mode. While in typing mode, the normal movement of objects such as hands and fingers can be ignored by the motion sensing circuitry. This ensures that nothing unexpected happens like the cursor moving, the page scrolling, or the screen zooming as the user moves the user’s fingers across the keys while typing. In typing mode, keyboard 100 operates as normal, accepting single key taps as text or number inputs, for example. Modifier key, hot key, and function key input also operate as normal in typing mode. In other words, keyboard 100 functions and feels just like one would expect a conventional mechanical keyboard to function and feel when in typing mode.
If apple does create this keyboard it could be truly remarkable. I would expect this keyboard design to be a part of the new Macbook line of laptops. If not it would be sold as a separate peripheral.