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Your next MacBook Air may have a touchscreen, but not where you think

Published May 1st, 2014 11:44AM EDT
MacBook Air with Keyboard Displays

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A newly published patent application reveals that Apple is researching ways to improve user input on its MacBook laptops, by including a keyboard capable of offering more advanced keys ready to perform more than one task, AppleInsider reports. Individual keys on the keyboard would perform their normal tasks,  but it would also include a touch-friendly display that might support additional gestures.

Filed on October 30, 2012, and published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on Thursday, the application describes “Multi-functional keyboard assemblies,” that could be found in future MacBook models. Interestingly, the patent includes an image showing a specific model, the compact MacBook Air laptop.

“Multi-functional keystacks for electronic devices are disclosed. Multi-functional keystacks can improve the functionality of keyboard keys in a variety of ways,” the company wrote in the patent application. “For instance, besides being configured with an first independent input component for providing a specific first input to an electronic device when pressed by a user, a multi-functional keystack can include a second independent input component that can provide a second distinct input to the electronic device and/or an independent output component that can provide an independent visual feedback to the user.”

The patent application describes “keystacks,” or regular keys that can contain electronic components including displays, sensors and switches. The keys would still have a switch-type mechanism that makes typing possible, but also a capacitive surface that would support various other gesture-based inputs, and which could show various images.

Such a keyboard would further allow users to perform additional gestures in certain apps by using the a key’s trackpad-like features in supported apps. “As just one example, swiping from right to left across a series of keys (e.g., the L-K-J keys) may initiate a `turn 30 page forward` command to an eBook (e.g., iBooks made available by Apple Inc. of Cupertino, Calif.) application running on the electronic device,” the patent reads.

The keys could also contain mechanisms that would offer some sort of haptic feedback to the user including vibration or increased resistance.

Keyboards containing keys with independent displays have already been produced by Art Lebedev.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.