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The Touch Bar might be the keyboard of the future on coming MacBooks

Apple's new patent applications hint at more touch-sensitive surfaces and virtual keyboards.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

In the wake of user complaints and multiple lawsuits concerning problems with the "butterfly switch" keyboard Apple has used in its laptops since 2016, the company may be developing new user interfaces that depend less on moving mechanical parts. 

iFixit / GIF by Sean Hollister/CNET

The company has filed three new keyboard-related patents, Mashable reported on Monday. 

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 on the MacBook Pro in 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. 

screen-shot-2018-08-06-at-3-37-52-pm.png

Apple may be developing an expanded Touch Bar that would completely surround the keyboard on future laptops.

Mashable/Apple/US Patent and Trademark Office

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. 

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Mashable/Apple/US Patent and Trademark Office

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 teardown of the newest MacBook Pro laptops 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.

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