What you need to know

  • A newly published Apple patent shows Apple is exploring new keyboard mechanisms.
  • The patent shows how MacBook keyboards of the future could be even more compact than before.
  • New mechanism would also be faster to assemble.

A newly published patent filed by Apple has revealed the company is exploring ways to reduce the overall size of the keyboards it houses in its MacBooks. As noted by Apple Insider the patent is titled "Keyboard assemblies having reduced thickness and method of forming keyboard assemblies."

The background to the patent states:

"It is becoming more and more desirable within the industry to reduce the size and/or thickness of various electronic devices. As such, all components of an electronic device, including any keyboard assembly, may be reduced in size. As a result, the size and/or number of components of the keyboard likewise may be reduced. With a reduction in size, quantity and/or material used to form the various components, the strength, and ultimately the operational life of the component may be reduced. This may cause the operational life of the keyboard assembly and/or electronic device to be reduced as well."

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Simply put, by reducing the size and the number of working parts within a keyboard mechanism, you decrease the margin for failure and extend the products lifespan. Not only that, by reducing the size of its keyboards Apple could reduce the overall size of the MacBook. Given that MacBooks are already fairly portable, it's perhaps more likely that the space created could be used to house something more useful, like more battery capacity.

The patent specifically refers to a keyboard which uses a single membrane sheet attached to a printed circuit board, or PCB. A switch housing could then be secured directly to the membrane layer, or alternatively to the PCB and then sandwiched between the two.

This differs to current standard configurations where the membrane is not directly attached to the PCB. As such it would reduce the overall space taken up, and the travel time between the two so as to increase responsiveness. It would also speed up assembly. The membrane could be manufactured from conductive material, so as to provide for the electrical connection required.

Whilst a patent filing is certainly not confirmation of Apple's future plans, a thinner keyboard assembly would certainly be a welcome addition to any MacBook model, especially if the space could then be used to add more processing power or battery life instead.