Apple patent idea teases 'polished meteorite' keyboard

A freshly published patent application outlines a new type of keyboard that could use truly space-age materials.

Apple's keyboard from the future. Well, maybe.
Apple's keyboard from the future. Well, maybe. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

A future Apple keyboard could be made from technology that's out of this world. Literally.

A newly published patent application, picked up by Apple Insider this week, details a new type of keyboard, made specifically for "thin-profile" computers, and designed to allow for any type of key cap--that's the part of the keyboard your fingers touch.

The core of the invention is a "single support lever" design, that's as opposed to a "scissor-switch" style that makes use of two, interconnected levers. The benefit, the patent says, is that the key can be stuck right onto the lever itself and make it feel more stable.

A depiction of a membrane-style keyboard.
A depiction of a membrane-style keyboard. US Patent and Trademark Office

"The use of a single support lever allows the key cap to be simply adhered to the support lever and the support lever also reduces instability when the key is depressed by a user," the patent reads. "As the key cap can be adhered to the support lever, intricate attachment features on the underside of the key cap are unnecessary, thereby allowing the key cap to be formed of a variety of materials, including glass and metal."

But why stop there? The application notes that the key caps could also be made out of wood or stone, and--yes--"polished meteorite."

More important than the materials though, is why Apple would use such a design. In one section of the patent, the inventors say it's about shrinking the keyboard overall, without making a compromise on how it feels.

"The skilled artisan will appreciate that it is desirable to make the keyboard (and computing device) thinner, but users still want the tactile feel to which users are accustomed," it says. "It is desirable for the keys to have some 'bounce-back' or 'snappy' feel."

Apple's last major change on its keyboards was a move to so-called "Chiclet-style" keys, which began on the (now defunct) plastic MacBook before making their way onto the MacBook Air and MacBook Pros. Apple also uses that key style on the desktop keyboards it ships with the iMac, and the keyboard accessory for the iPad.

Apple filed for the patent on August 20, 2010. It was published yesterday alongside applications for a new cross-fading audio system, and a system for identifying three-dimensional movement.

As for the usual postscript on these things, Apple has not yet been granted this patent, and the technology itself may never see the light of day in a shipping gadget.

 

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