Apple proposes hybrid keyboard that’s also a trackpad

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Proposed hybrid keyboard
A proposed hybrid keyboard would have regular keys that can also sense light touches.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

A future MacBook might have a hybrid keyboard that can sense when the. keys are lightly touched as well as when they’re pressed. This would allow the entire keyboard to function as a trackpad.

Apple wants to redesign the keyboard. It’s proposed various ways to make this classic input device more functional. Last month, it floated the idea of a replacing the keyboard with a flexible touch panel.

Today’s patent filing describes “A touch sensitive mechanical keyboard [that] can accept touch events performed on the surface of the keys. Additionally, the keyboard can accept key depressions as textual input.”

The design includes the ability to temporarily lock out key presses so only touches would be accepted. This would be a better mode for gaming or drawing. Alternatively, touch sensitivity could be deactivated when typing. 

Hybrid keyboard: good and bad

This would make the stand-alone trackpad a thing of the past, freeing up space on the laptop. At the same time, it would give users a relatively huge trackpad to work with.

A possible disadvantage of the proposed keyboard is that all the keys might need to fit closely together. Most people prefer some key separation because that makes typing more accurate.

Also, the computer might struggle to differentiate between inadvertently touching keys when typing from deliberate touches for controlling the cursor.

Jonny Ive, Apple’s chief of design, has said many times that the company doesn’t add new features just to be different from competitors. They have to make the products better. This means Apple won’t release a MacBook with a new type of keyboard until Ive, and Apple CEO Tim Cook, are convinced it will be an improvement over the current design.