Future Apple keyboards may have key caps that are a mixture of a glass top and color backlight, for more durable keys that could potentially be used as mini-screens.
If you have been using Apple equipment for long enough, you know they are still tough and will last for many years. However, you will also know that the first thing to show is the keyboard. The legends of the letters on the keys eventually come off, and sometimes the keys themselves wear out.
Apple wants to solve this problem with a plan that also lends itself to future developments. “Transparent Keycaps”, US patent application 20200211795, is primarily aimed at using glass to make stronger keys – but it also offer with other potential functionality.
“[For keyboards] a user can physically engage the selected material several hundreds of thousands of times, even millions of times, during the lifetime of a device, “says the application.” Many visually pleasing solutions lack durability for such an extended function. ”
“This can be especially true when the electronic devices and / or associated input devices are made smaller, thinner or otherwise reduced in size,” he continues. “The reduced dimensions of the keys, for example, can lead to keys which are structurally weaker and have a shorter lifespan than the thicker keys made of the same material.”
The solution proposed by Apple includes “a cap for a keyboard which includes a key body comprising an upper external surface”. This vertex could be transparent with the letter of the key attached to the lower surface of the transparent body, the material blocking the light defining a form of glyph. ”
Thus, the legend could be in the key instead of being printed on it. Apple’s app describes in detail many different shapes and forms for how the top of the key could be shaped, but it also refers to another option regarding the backlight.
“In addition, the cap can change color more dramatically if the backlight lighting changes color,” he says. “For example, the two-color or RGB LEDs used for the backlight can change the color by a greater proportion of the cap … The backlight can change the brightness and color of the entire intermediate layer outside the glyph . ”
So if the main concern is to create a more durable keyboard, the proposed process would at least change the way the backlight is done. Rather than the light shining through the letter of the key and around its sides, it could be that everything except the letter is illuminated. In addition, this lighting could come from lights that change color.
Detail of the patent application showing a possible design of the key
It is an extremely small step in providing keys that dynamically change color under software control, and Apple has also studied this with a patent for the use of LEDs in keys.
The inventors of this patent include the prolific Paul X. Wang, who is also one of the nine credited for applying transparent keys. Among others, Keith J. Hendren, recently co-credited with an all-glass redesign of the iMac. There is also Matthew S. Rogers, previously listed as a co-inventor on the plans to include hidden cameras and removable headphones in “Apple Glass”.