updated 11:15 am EST, Thu December 24, 2009
Could be applied to forthcoming tablet
Apple has filed for a patent on a touch-surface keyboard with tactile feedback, US Patent and Trademark Office documents show. A problem with typing on touchscreens is that users must typically look at the keys to know what is being pressed; by contrast, most physical keyboards allow people to gauge where their fingers are through bumps and ridges. Apple's solution would pop up an "articulating frame" whenever typing is engaged, and move it out of the way when it is not.
A frame could be based around ridges or concave depressions, much as on a normal keyboard, or alternately on dedicated feedback mechanisms. Another proposed option is a non-articulating frame, simply providing more resistance the further a finger moves away from a key center. Activation of the frame could be triggered by placing fingers in the right place, or simply engaging in typing-like activity. A frame could be lowered when taps or slides are detected.
The technology could conceivably be employed in Apple's upcoming tablet, which a former Apple worker has suggested will surprise people in how they can interact with it. The patent filing is also not the first of its kind from the company, as a similar one was submitted as far back as 2007. The tablet may be announced in late January.