Apple’s forthcoming tablet could employ a dynamic surface that gives users tactile feedback when typing in order to identify individual keys, according to a new patent application revealed this week.
Using an "articulating frame," the surface of such a device would create physical bumps or dots for the user to feel when it is in keyboard mode. Those surface features would retract and disappear when the device is not being used to type. It is detailed in an application entitled "Keystroke Tactility Arrangement on a Smooth Touch Surface." It is similar to an application first filed back in 2007.
"The articulating frame may provide key edge ridges that define the boundaries of the key regions or may provide tactile feedback mechanisms within the key regions," the application reads. "The articulating frame may also be configured to cause concave depressions similar to mechanical key caps in the surface."
The tactile feedback keyboard is revealed as one anonymous source told The New York Times that users would be "surprised" how they interact with the tablet.
Another example in the application describes a rigid, non-articulating frame beneath the surface. It would provide higher resistance when pressing away from the key centers, but softer resistance at the center of a virtual key, guiding hands to the proper location.
The patent notes that pointing and typing require very different needs: Pointing is best on a smooth surface with little friction, while typing is preferred on keys with edges that fingertips can feel. Simply putting Braille-like dots on the ‘F’ and ‘J’ keys, as is on most physical keyboards, is not enough, because it does not address alignment issues with outside keys.
Conversely, while placing dots on every single key on a surface would help a user find their location, it would take away the smooth surface necessary for touch controls that users are accustomed to on a glass screen like the iPhone.
The patent aims to offer the best of both worlds with a new device that could dynamically change its surface.