Apple explores dual-screen MacBook with tactile keyboard

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Dual-screen MacBook patent
Apple wants to give MacBooks a second display with a tactile keyboard, ditching the built-in one.
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

Apple is considering a MacBook with two displays, with the second screen acting as a keyboard. By necessity, iPads already employ on-screen keyboards but these lack tactile feedback. Apple is looking for ways to make these virtual keys move when they’re typed on.

The company has been pursuing this project for years, as demonstrated by a patent it just received.

Non-virtual virtual keyboard

Apple was awarded a patent for “Electronic devices with deformable displays.” The summary says:

To provide the user with tactile output, an output device such as a display or track pad may be provided with electroactive polymer structures, electromagnetic actuators, and other tactile output devices. The tactile output devices may provide protrusions, indentations, selectively stiffened and softened areas, and other tactile output for a user.”

Nearly every iPad user should see the advantages. Even though Apple tablets are large enough that people could touch type on them, it’s not possible on a completely flat panel without tactile feedback.

This isn’t Apple’s first patent related to virtual keyboards with haptic feedback. The company received one last year. It’s clearly put a lot of thought and effort into the idea.

MacBook or iPad? Or both?

The diagrams included in the latest patent filing appear to show show Apple envisioning an on-screen keyboard with tactile feedback in a MacBook. It would double the available screen space for this notebook. And keyboards could be easily re-arranged or resized.

That said, this tech might go just as easily into a foldable iPad, such as the one it’s supposedly prepping for release next year. Tablet users would appreciate a better method for typing, while most MacBook users are probably happy with a physical keyboard.

Just keep in mind, Apple files dozens of patents every week, many of which never become products. It’s quite possible that will happen with this one too. Only time will tell if the dual-screen MacBook idea goes beyond the drawing board.