Force Touch could make your next Mac keyboard a virtual one

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Photo: Matt Buchanan CC
Typing on your iMac may one day be like using your iPad. With one crucial difference. Photo: Matt Buchanan/Flickr CC

Apple’s magical Force Touch trackpad — which uses haptic technology to make the new MacBook trackpad feel like it’s clicking, even when it’s not — was unveiled at the company’s recent “Spring Forward” event.

But a patent application published today suggests that this is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the interest in haptic technology on the part of Tim Cook and co. The application describes a whole virtual keyboard for the iMac, meaning that users could type onto a flat glass or metallic plate, but would still be able to feel the individual keys.

This effect would be achieved by using haptics, meaning that an electromagnetic motor is used to fool your fingertips into experiencing sensory feedback that isn’t, in the strictest of terms, actually there. The patent application goes on to describe how individual keystrokes would be picked up using capacitance, inductive sensors or laser sensors.

The below diagram gives a sense of how Apple’s virtual keyboard technology might work.

Haptic
Photo: USPTO/Apple

 

This isn’t the first time that Apple has explored the subject of virtual keyboards. The original patent that today’s application is based on was filed way back in 2009, before the iPad hit shelves, or was even announced by Apple. This updated version was filed in November 2014, naming Aleksandar Pance, Paul Alioshin, Bret Bilbrey and David Amm as its inventors.

Interestingly, of these four, only Amm still works at Apple.

While that does suggest that Apple’s simply re-upping its existing patents to make sure no-one swipes the company’s hard-earned R&D work, the fact that both the high profile MacBook refresh and the Apple Watch take advantage of haptic technology does suggest a virtual iMac keyboard may not be quite as far away as it may have once seemed.

Source: USPTO

Via: Patently Apple