updated 10:45 am EDT, Thu October 25, 2007
Apple multitouch keyboard
Apple has developed a multitouch keyboard technology, an application published by the US Patent and Trademark Office reveals. A completed keyboard would be an extension of concepts used in the iPhone and the iPod touch, melding typing, gesture and pointing (mouse) functions into a single computer accessory. Apple notes on its application that this should have numerous advantages, "such as eliminating need for mouse as a separate pointing device, eliminating wasteful reaches between keyboard and pointing device, and general workflow streamlining."
"However," Apple cautions, "pointing and typing have opposite tactile feedback needs." Pointing and gestures require the smoothest surface possible to function, but typing on a keyboard is usually accomplished with tactile feedback, which helps users to find keys and distinguish them. Adding ridges to a touch surface is said to solve this problem, but at the expense of creating a rough pointing surface.
Apple has proposed four alternative answers to the issue: the first is a different kind of feedback, in the form of dots, bars or other shapes on most or all keys. Sections of a keyboard might alternately be given varying feedback, while another suggestion is an articulating frame, which would extend when typing but retract for other uses. The third solution involves a frame set to cause depressions when typing, while a fourth would involve a completely rigid frame, simply creating more resistance when moving away from key centers.
The proposed patent is attributed to Wayne Carl Westerman of San Francisco, and makes reference to a similar keyboard concept called TouchStream, manufactured by a now-defunct company called FingerWorks. The multitouch keyboard is the latest in a stream of patents from Apple, which have included dynamic device input, design trademarks for the iPhone, and distinctive file sharing and updating systems.