Apple patents MacBook with key switches underneath a flexible touchscreen keyboard
Will the MacBook have dual screens one day?By Isaiah Mayersen
The big picture: There's a secret recipe to the perfect high-end laptop, and Apple has cracked the code... along with Dell, Razer, LG, and about a dozen other device manufacturers. In a time when Apple's design and finesse can no longer separate them from the pack, what's the solution to setting MacBooks apart?
Apple users will argue the answer to that question is macOS, but I digress. A new patent (spotted by Inverse) reaffirms rumors that Apple has been working on a MacBook with two screens; a standard retina display and a massive touchscreen that replaces the keyboard and trackpad. Or should I say covers the keyboard: the display will reportedly be bendable and have switches underneath, to retain the feel of typing on a normal keyboard.
In the patent Apple outlines a wide variety of switch types and keypress mechanisms, including attaching the screen to a membrane that snaps back into place, having springs underneath or even putting their current butterfly switches in. In most of the designs, intriguingly, Apple describes ridges in the touchscreen that outline the keys, much like a normal keyboard.
Rather than using the secondary display as just another screen, Apple suggests that it's more of a way to enhance interaction by creating dynamic buttons that are application dependent. As someone who regularly forgets YouTube's keyboard shortcuts let alone Blender's, it sounds quite useful.
Apple's 2018 MacBook Air didn't come with the touch bar, and some fans have justified that decision saying that its primary use is in professional applications, such as Adobe Premiere, and that a MacBook Pro is required for that anyway. Following that line of thinking one would expect this display-keyboard to be an addon in the premium tier. Then again, many current MacBook Pro owners including TechSpot staff members believe the touch bar is useless to power users.
Still, two burning questions remain: if Apple does release it, to what extent will applications be allowed to run normally on the display-keyboard, and how comfortable will it really be for typing? It's impossible to know right now.
Back in February last year two patents were revealed regarding touchscreens replacing the keyboard, then another regarding haptic feedback to simulate a keyboard. The new patent combines these and improves upon them.
This concept also brings up a statement from Jony Ive, Apple's head of design to Cnet: "we had a pretty good prototype that wasn't product specific. It was exploring this idea of larger, haptic-rich trackpad --- what you now see as the touch bar combined with a keyboard ... Is this as useful and is this as compelling as we conceptually think it should be?"
Apple's patent looks compelling, but only time will tell if it's useful.