Apple Researching Physical Keyboards with Motion Control to Replace Mouse

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Apple's patent applications have always been a topic of interest here at MacRumors. They give us a rare look into Apple's research and development labs, although many of the concepts never see the light of day.

For years, we've seen Apple patent applications for touch-sensitive keyboards. Those patents have been based on the pioneering work of FingerWorks, a company which was acquired by Apple in 2005 and served as the basis for much of Apple's multi-touch technology. Prior to the acquisition, FingerWorks had produced several touch-sensitive multi-touch keyboards that garnered positive reviews, although they never became mainstream products. The one major hurdle in the adoption of these touch-only keyboards has been the lack of tactile feedback as compared to traditional keyboards.

A new Apple patent application that we've uncovered seems, however, to try to address that issue by creating a hybrid physical keyboard that will also double as a motion-sensitive input device. The patent application is authored by John Elias, one of the co-founders of FingerWorks.




First, Apple acknowledges that the physical keyboard remains the preferred input device:
Over the last forty years 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, although such alternative keyboards may provide improved usability or ergonomics, they have failed to replace or duplicate the commercial success of the conventional mechanical keyboard.
In the patent application, Apple goes on to describe a best-of-both-worlds scenario in which a physical keyboard also has a motion-sensitive area. The motion-sensitive area is implemented in this design with four "slot cameras" around the perimeter of the keyboard. These cameras are be able to track the user's finger movements immediately above the keyboard to provide the usual mouse or trackpad functions of cursor tracking and window scrolling.




Apple suggests that the keyboard would offer two modes: a typing mode and a mouse mode. These modes could be toggled by holding down a special key or through a specific key combination. Users could then operate the computer entirely using the keyboard for both typing and navigation. This configuration would eliminate the need for a mouse or even a trackpad. It's also easy to imagine the evolution to incorporate more complicated gestures beyond standard mouse navigation.

It's perhaps telling that, despite years of research, the most dramatic new input device Apple has released has simply been a standalone multi-touch trackpad. Keyboards relying solely on touch have not been considered ready for primetime quite yet, but it seems that Apple is shifting gears to explore more palatable variants.

Article Link: Apple Researching Physical Keyboards with Motion Control to Replace Mouse
 

RedTomato

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"It's perhaps telling that, despite years of research, the most dramatic new input device Apple has released has simply been a standalone multi-touch trackpad."

I disagree with this. What about the keyboard and input interface in iOS? That's a pretty dramatic new input device and a strong move away from physical keyboards.

My iPhone is able to act as an input device for many other devices and these apps have been available in the App store for some time. (AirMouse, Remote Control, DJ apps, VNC apps etc)

I have used it as a trackpad for my desktop sometimes, and hey, iPhones can be used to control cars and miniature flying devices ;)
 
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ppilone

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Kudos to the original mechanical keyboard and mouse. It only takes days for new technology to go out of style. The keyboard and mouse have been around for decades.
 

DavidLeblond

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So if I read that right, you hold down a button with one hand and hover your other hand over the keyboard, making the gestures?

Not sure how I feel about that. On one hand, it would be nice to not have to reach for a mouse. On the other hand, I'm not sure how well it would work.
 

levitynyc

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Not a bad idea. Apple can't seem to design a good mouse anyway, might has well try and not have one.

I use my Magic Trackpad now. My magic mouse has been sold on Ebay.
 

jayducharme

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Jun 22, 2006
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That's gonna be one dirty keyboard after about a week of use.
Why would it be any more dirty than a standard keyboard? I assume the motions are made in the air just above the keyboard and don't have to actually touch the surface.

It's an interesting concept. It would be more efficient, though, if the keyboard could intelligently detect the mouse-like movements, rather than the user having to press a key to activate that function.
 

Winni

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Very interesting. Sort of the best of both worlds.
For me it's rather like the worst of both worlds. I can't stand touchpads, find touch interfaces cumbersome and don't even use Apple mice (or keyboards) with my Mac because they have the worst ergonomics on the market. I'm fast with natural keyboards and standard PC/Microsoft mice and don't need gadgets that slow me down like this "innovation" without a doubt would.

I could imagine that 3D interfaces and data gloves would provide more improvements.
 

Ubuntu

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"It's perhaps telling that, despite years of research, the most dramatic new input device Apple has released has simply been a standalone multi-touch trackpad."

I disagree with this. What about the keyboard and interface in iOS? That's a pretty dramatic move away from physical keyboards.
While I agree that the touchscreen keyboard is pretty awesome, its not technically an input device. When they say input device they mean like a mouse, trackpad, keyboard, etc.
 

RedTomato

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Ubuntu said:
"It's perhaps telling that, despite years of research, the most dramatic new input device Apple has released has simply been a standalone multi-touch trackpad."

I disagree with this. What about the keyboard and interface in iOS? That's a pretty dramatic move away from physical keyboards.
While I agree that the touchscreen keyboard is pretty awesome, its not technically an input device. When they say input device they mean like a mouse, trackpad, keyboard, etc.
I noticed the same thing you did, and modified my post before seeing your post.

The second part of my post now reads

RedTomato said:
My iPhone is able to act as an input device for many other devices and these apps have been available in the App store for some time. (AirMouse, Remote Control, DJ apps, VNC apps etc)

I have used it as a trackpad for my desktop sometimes, and hey, iPhones can be used to control cars and miniature flying devices
 
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talkingfuture

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Very interesting, I wonder why they haven't done a combination of Magic Trackpad and wireless keyboard in one unit yet? Other than potential cost it seems like a great idea.
 

WiiDSmoker

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"It's perhaps telling that, despite years of research, the most dramatic new input device Apple has released has simply been a standalone multi-touch trackpad."

I disagree with this. What about the keyboard and input interface in iOS? That's a pretty dramatic new input device and a strong move away from physical keyboards.

My iPhone is able to act as an input device for many other devices and these apps have been available in the App store for some time. (AirMouse, Remote Control, DJ apps, VNC apps etc)
You have to look at where you are to type. The reason you don't have to look at where you are typing on a conventional keyboard is because of tacticle feedback.
 

0815

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Not a bad idea. Apple can't seem to design a good mouse anyway, might has well try and not have one.

I use my Magic Trackpad now. My magic mouse has been sold on Ebay.
I'm always amazed how many people don't like the magic mouse - I totally love it and it is (for me) the best mouse I ever used - guess it's a matter of personal preferences. I have not tried the magic trackpad yet, very tempting - but I don't want to give up my magic mouse :)
 

Lepton

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Sony has it

Sony actually has a keyboard that does this. It's a peripheral for the PS3! check out their Bluetooth keyboard add on. It is a small keyboard that clips onto the PS3 controller. Tap one of it's buttons and the keyboard becomes a trackpad. Drag your finger across the keyboard lightly, without pressing keys, and the cursor moves. It actually works pretty well. Some kind of capacitive technology, I think.
 

Mr. Chewbacca

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Apr 27, 2010
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how cool, you would never have to move your hands to reach for something on the side. May or may not work but I love how Apple keeps looking for new ideas.

Now if we could just get them to make an ergonomoc keyboard, that would be great!!!
 

dethmaShine

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No contemplation here. Might be good; might be bad. Apple touch pad looks like a pain to use but I haven't tried it once.

On the other hand, touch based devices are the future so I wouldn't have a problem trying some thing like this.

Also, I hope apple makes it easy to use and make it highly ergonomic as a very less % of people would opt for something other than a touchpad+keyboard or a mouse+keyboard combo.
 

j-a-x

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Interesting here but it seems like the kind of thing that you actually have to see and use to really understand how it works. I'm having a hard time imagining moving the cursor by scrolling my finger around the keyboard which tracks my fingers with a camera without pressing the keys... It actually kind of makes me think of a touch free version of that weird IBM keyboard eraser nib thing that people used to use to control the mouse (ugh).
 

aplqna

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First off, it would get to be annoying to have to "toggle" between keyboard and mouse modes by pressing a key every time you wanted to do one or the other.

Second, I believe people are misreading the article. It is NOT the surface of the keyboard that is touch sensitive. It is the cameras that are placed slightly above it that sense motion. In fact, you don't touch anything while you make the motions- you just gesture above the keyboard. That would be odd.

Third, the physical keys of the keyboard are still present. It doesn't seem to incorporate the technology proposed in a previous article which would eliminate physical keys and use an entirely level touch-sensitive surface that would give physical feedback (most likely vibration) when each "key is pressed".
 

MrSmith

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Nov 27, 2003
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Keyboards relying solely on touch have not been considered ready for primetime quite yet...
Yet? The human body hasn't - and isn't - going to change even in a number of millennia, so the need for tactile feedback in our digits is going to far outlive the Mac (and computers in general) as we can imagine them even in our wildest dreams.
 
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