Apple explores crazy ways to add touch to MacBooks

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A touch sensitive area could make a MacBook trackpad movable.
A future MacBook might let you put the trackpad anywhere you want.
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

Far from resting on its laurels, Apple continues to look for innovative features to build into MacBooks. A patent awarded Tuesday shows the company is considering making the trackpad virtual, so it can be positioned wherever the user likes.

And a second patent goes even further, making the keyboard and the area around it touch-sensitive.

Proposing a virtual MacBook trackpad

Apple received a patent today for a Dynamic Input Surface for Electronic Devices from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It proposes making the entire space in front of a MacBook’s keyboard touch sensitive. The user would then be able to place a trackpad anywhere in this space of any size they wish. The rest of the area would then be temporality deactivated.

If Apple actually implemented this idea, it would allow someone to put a trackpad exactly where they wish. For example, a left-handed person could move it to the left side of the MacBook, if they want.

Make the keyboard into a touch panel, or even get rid of it

Making the top of MacBook keys touch sensitive would make them even more useful.
A MacBook keyboard could also act as part of large touch panel.
Photo: Apple

Apple also received a patent for a Device having Integrated Interface System. This is fairly wide ranging, both covering a possible way to use the keyboard for more than text entry, and also proposing dumping it altogether.

One section of the patent filing considers making the tops of keyboard keys and the area around it touch sensetive. This would allow the user to, for example, move the screen cursor to the right by lightly touching their finger to the Caps Lock key and dragging to the right across the row of keys. This would, in effect, make the entire base of the laptop onto a touch panel.

The engineers behind this patent also suggest removing the keyboard to make the entire top surface of the base portion of the MacBook into a touchscreen. The keyboard would be virtual, and applications would be able to define any buttons, sliders, etc. they need.

If all that wasn’t enough, the patent also points out that an iPhone wireless charger and fingerprint scanner could be built into the base portion of the Mac laptop.

Don’t hold your breath

Apple originally filed for the movable trackpad patent in September 2015. It filed for the second of these in March 2018.

Whether it plans to integrate any of these proposed ideas into future products is anyone’s guess. Company engineers frequently patent designs that are never seen again.