Future of Mac & iOS Keyboards? Apple Patent Shows Virtual Keyboard with Air Feedback System

May 12, 2011 - 6 Comments

Virtual keyboard shoots air at fingers for real touch feedback

Apple has patented a very unique keyboard design that uses micro-perforations to shoot air at the users fingers upon touch, providing tactile feedback to whoever is typing. What makes this patent even more interesting is that not only could it apply to standard keyboards, but also virtual keyboards on iOS devices, as PatentlyApple elaborates:

flowing of air could also be implemented in a virtual keyboard, wherein each key location is merely a defined region on a solid surface, where contact with that surface region will generate a defined input signal.

Such virtual keyboards may have no moveable surfaces. In such configurations, notwithstanding the absence of a moveable surface, the flowing of air through apertures in the surface may be used to provide a tactile resistance to a user’s actuation motion and/or to absorb at least a portion of the actuation force.

In other words, typing on future Apple touch screens may actually provide a sensation of typing on a real keyboard, thanks to little puffs of air hitting your fingers as you touch the display. Other interesting aspects of the patent indicate that the tiny perforations could also be used to illuminate the keyboard with LED backlighting, and that the entire system could also apply to deformable, flexible keyboards and surfaces (future mouses?).

Apple patent for crazy keyboard with air holes

How amazing is this, even as a concept? One of the biggest gripes about virtual keyboards are the lack of tactile feedback, making it much harder to touch-type at any speed with much accuracy. This patent looks to be trying to solve that problem.

As always with Apple patents, don’t get your hopes up, this could be a long ways out if it ever makes an appearance at all.

Check out PatentlyApple for more schematics and analysis of the patent.

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Posted by: William Pearson in iPad, iPhone, Mac, News

6 Comments

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  1. Darian says:

    Presumably the micro-perforations will still be larger than water or dirt molecules and dead skin cells, so they would likely get clogged pretty quickly. It would need fairly powerful jets of air to unclog this kind of goo.

    • Krecci says:

      Very good point, this would not work if these virtual pores clog. Perhaps Apple will utilize a technology or coating which many jackets have that allows air to pass through but moisture to stay out? The problem with these coatings is that they wear off over time, it has to be part of the material like, like snake skin.

  2. Chris says:

    Wow, Darian raises a very nasty point.

  3. 911 says:

    The dirt on a keyboard was my first thought as well. Seems so obvious, the idea is pretty much dead in the water. Except, I wonder if there would be some sort of thin coating layer above the air jets, and the user would still feel some of the pressure?

  4. [...] is on a roll today, first finding a patent for futuristic virtual Apple keyboards that puff air to emulate the feel of pressing buttons, and now with this. Pretty impressive stuff, assuming Apple [...]

  5. Joseph says:

    Could have pegs under the holes so when you hit the key they clear it out.

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