One of the patent applications describes a laptop with a digital panel where a keyboard traditionally sits. This could be interpreted as a plan to replace the conventional keyboard with technology similar to the Touch Bar -- the row of virtual, customizable buttons that Apple debuted onin 2016. The patent also includes information about sensors and haptics embedded beneath the envisioned digital panel, which would allow it to detect and respond to user inputs such as keystrokes, taps and clicks.
A second patent describes a less-dramatically expanded Touch Bar. In this case, digital paneling would not replace the keyboard but rather, would surround it, adding touch sensitivity to the areas below and to the right and left of the keyboard. And a third patent outlines a keyboard that's been sealed beneath a protective membrane designed to keep out, presumably, destructive substances like water and dust -- the culprit accused of compromising some current-generation MacBook keyboards.
Apple told CNET that though its 2018 MacBook Pro comes with a new third-generation "butterfly switch" keyboard, it didn't do any new engineering specifically to prevent the "sticky key" issue that has led to class-action lawsuits and a free Apple repair program. But a of shows that Apple may have already attempted to address the issue with a new silicone membrane designed to keep dust out.
Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.