Your future Apple MacBook may not need a trackpad for you to move around the screen.
Published on Tuesday by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a patent dubbed simply "Fusion keyboard" describes a keyboard with keys that can both insert characters as well as deploy touch gestures.
Why create a laptop that doesn't necessarily need a trackpad? Size is one major reason. The trackpad on MacBooks as well as other laptops take up a fare amount of space, increasing the overall size of the device. A laptop that dispensed with a trackpad could shrink in overall size or allow greater space for the keyboard so the keys aren't as scrunched together and are therefore easier to type on. You'd also be able to work faster since your hands would never have to leave the keyboard to move to a trackpad.
How would a Fusion keyboard work? You'd be able to swipe your fingers across the keys to move across the screen, just as you can with a trackpad. The touch-sensitive keys would provide all the functionality of a trackpad, giving you the ability to point and click, select items, zoom in and out and scroll around the screen, all without leaving the keyboard.
Each key would also have two levels, so you'd be able to perform different tasks based on how hard you press the key. For example, pressing the key softly to the first level could input a character, while pressing it harder to the second level might register a mouse click.
Further, you'd be able to type and swipe at the same time. So your left hand might be typing away on the left side of the keyboard, while your right hand would be swiping across a set of keys to move around the screen.
In the patent application, Apple describes the drawback with current keyboards:
There have been numerous attempts made to introduce an alternative to the standard keyboard. The changes include, but are not limited to, non-QWERTY layouts, concave and convex surfaces, capacitive keys, split designs, membrane keys, etc. However, while such alternative keyboards may provide improved usability or ergonomics, they have failed to replace or duplicate the commercial success of the conventional mechanical keyboard.
As always, a patent application by itself doesn't mean the invention will ever hit the real world. But by adding touch sensitivity to the standard mechanical keyboard, the Fusion keyboard could succeed where other alternative keyboards have failed.