Forward-looking: Could Apple's future MacBooks feature a solid-state keyboard (SSK) that uses an all-glass touch surface, much like the iPad? A recently granted patent suggests that such a product may become a reality.

Spotted by Patently Apple (via 9to5Mac), the keyboard has the advantage of being configurable depending on what app is being used. You could, for example, turn the entire section into a numerical keyboard for data entry work, or switch to a large drawing pad for creating something artistic.

As we know from phones and tablets, typing on a screen has plenty of drawbacks compared to using traditional, physical keys: touch typing is difficult, if not impossible; it doesn't have the same feel as using a standard keyboard, and it's hard to replicate the same feedback; slamming fingers into a glass surface for hours on end can get very uncomfortable.

Apple's patent hopes to address these issues by making the screen-based keyboard feel closer to a physical one, thanks to a hybrid-like design.

"First, allowing a flexible screen to deform when a virtual key is pressed. Second, haptic feedback would be used to simulate the click of a real key. Third, an electrostatic charge could also be used to simulate the feeling of the edge of a key, making it feel like a real keyboard when you place your fingers on it ready to type," it states.

One significant advantage of this keyboard is that there are no physical spaces between the keys that are often magnets for debris, making them more likely to fail. It's something Apple's familiar with, given all the problems with its old butterfly keyboard design.

As with every patent, there's no guarantee the keyboard will become an actual feature. It could end up as an option for some MacBooks, though its appeal could be limited.