Apple Wants To Slice KeyboardsBy: Lee Hester - February 24, 2012
Apple has an interest in developing and reinventing thinner and lighter keyboard accessories according to a new patent application discovered by AppleInsider this week. The patent application describes several ways a keyboard could be shrunk in size without affecting its performance and is titled, “Single support lever keyboard mechanism.” Apple describes in the filing that the size of current keyboards presents challenges for the company as it attempts to design lighter, thinner, more attractive devices.
The application reads, “It would be beneficial to provide a keyboard for a portable computing device that is aesthetically pleasing, yet still provides the stability for each key that users desire. It would also be beneficial to provide methods for manufacturing the keyboard having an especially aesthetic design as well as functionality for the portable computing device.”
The most common type of keyboards are designed so the key pushes down on a rubber dome located beneath the key. This type of keyboard is referred to as “dome switch”. Capacitive, mechanical switch, hall-effect, membrane and roll-up are other types of keyboards and each has pros and cons relating to response (positive feel or feedback when pressed) and travel (distance needed to push the key).
Apple’s proposed invention is a single support lever keyboard mechanism which would allow the keyboard cap to be formed of almost any material but would still provide stability to each key. According to the application, the material chosen for the key caps is very important for both the appearance of the keyboard and the ergonomics of how it feels to fingers. Apple has included several unusual materials they are considering like glass, wood, stone and even “polished meteorite.” Regardless of the material, Apple’s keyboard key caps would be held in place by a rigid support lever allowing the keys to have a total travel range of as little as 0.2 mm.
Another idea describes a support lever holding the key cap that would be made of a flexible material. This support lever could be made of spring steel that could allow good tactile feedback to users when typing. The key cap and support lever would have an “elastomeric spacer” between them and a metal dome positioned below. The spacer would be made of rubber or silicone providing a “desirable and distinctive feel to the user when pressed” and reducing rattling. The filing states, “The advantages of the invention are numerous. One is that a low-travel keyboard may be provided for a thin profile computing device without comprising the tactile feel of the keyboard.”