Patent reveals potential for haptic technology use in on-screen keyboards.

What you need to know

  • An Apple patent published today reveals new capability for screen-based keyboards.
  • Simulated keyboard would use haptic feedback to replicate typing.
  • Patent could be applied to MacBook as well as tablets.

An Apple patent published today has revealed that Apple is exploring the possibility of using haptic feedback to replicate the sensation of typing in its on-screen keyboards. The patent is titled "Static Pattern Electrostatic Haptic Electrodes", and the abstract to the patent states:

A virtual keyboard device includes a surface, a static pattern electrostatic haptic electrode disposed on an area of the surface, the static pattern electrostatic haptic electrode defining voids on the area of the surface between contiguous portions of the static pattern electrostatic haptic electrode, insulating material disposed on the static pattern electrostatic haptic electrode, and a controller operable to apply a voltage to the static pattern electrostatic haptic electrode. Application of the voltage to the static pattern electrostatic haptic electrode may produce a variable friction between a conductive object and the insulating material as the conductive object moves across the insulating material. In some implementations, the surface may be part of a display device that is configured to display a virtual key of a virtual keyboard in the area.

The technology essentially revolves around a vibration actuator, configured to provide haptic feedback when it recieves an input. The description notes:

For example, a vibration actuator may be configured to provide haptic feedback when an input is received via a virtual keyboard presented on a touch display. Feedback for such components may enhance user experience as this may simulate physical responses users have come to expect from traditionally three-dimensional and mechanical apparatuses that have been more contemporaneously implemented using non-traditional mechanisms, such as flat surfaces that do not use moving parts.

The patent is designed to improve the tactile response users experience when they type on screen. Naturally, this patent would seem to relate to Apple's devices which already use on screen keyboards, for example the iPhone and the iPad. However as Patently Apple suggests:

Although the patent figures in this patent application depict an iPad as the focus device, Apple claims that the invention could apply to other devices in the future including an iMac, MacBook, iPhones, kitchen appliances and more.

As such, it seems from reports that the patent could be pointing to a future MacBook whereby the physical keyboard is replaced with a screen simulating a keyboard. Naturally, that sort of possibility could make for a wondrous two-screen device, and all the extra capabilities that would bring to a MacBook.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9