Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Apple patents MacBook with key switches under a flexible touchscreen keyboard (techspot.com)
75 points by gjvc 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

Is this punishment for all the complaints about the current keyboard?

Apple just wants us to get used to a shitty key feel to open the door to even worse.

You're not entirely wrong here.

Companies have no obligation to give the consumer the biggest and best, if they know the consumer will be satisfied with par. For instance, if a business has no/weak competition, then even if the company has a next-level product ready for distribution, it would make more sense to keep the lesser product on the shelf and only increment features when competition arrives.

For Apple, they know their customers are loyal and getting them riled up about some things here and there will only heighten the excitement when the truly epic product is released. I'm not sure if that's what's happening here, but I don't see Apple struggling.

I was half joking.

In my personal case I have grown more and more frustrated with Apple's products.

It boggles my mind that my 5 years old MBP is more pleasant to use than the one I got at work 1 year ago

(to be 100% fair, the new model has one nicety : the fingerprint reader, even though I am not 100% satisfied/convinced, it is nicer than entering a password).

I am more than ready to jump ship to any other product at this point. Even an OS that I feel is inferior for my personal needs won't be too much of an issue if it does everything else better than my current laptop.

Which one exactly? I had tried the 2016(7?) MBP one it felt awful, but recently purchased the 2018 MacBook Air and I quite like it when I'm not using my mechanical keyboard (Filco).

I was considering picking up a new Air, as i actually quite like the feel of the keyboard in it too - however even the demonstration laptop I tested typing on in an Apple store was suffering from the keyboard issues others have described (double spaces, missing letters etc).

Yes this computer is likely an extreme case - on account of the environment it sits and the volume of people that will touch and use the thing daily. But it doesn't say to me that this is of even satisfactory quality, nevermind good quality.

Or, you know, it might also have a great tactile feel due to haptics, and be more flexible, and a better solution with no dust, water, etc problems.

It's as if we need to use it first before forming an opinion...

People complained when the Touch Toolbar replaced the Function keys row. Now it looks like Apple plans to replace the whole keyboard.

Haptic feedback sounds nice, but the invisible "buttons" and bumps will always remain at the same positions. Reprogramming these keys and their backgrounds might be useful in some applications, but the hardware layout wouldn't be very configurable.

The next iteration of this design would be to mechanically even out the keyboard layout bumps, whenever the keyboard or a specific key isn't in use.

The strategy reveals itself: make a keyboard so shitty that a single breadcumb kills it. Then "upgrade" the users to something they wouldn't want if they had a proper, "old macbook pro" style keyboard.

Reminds me of an old Soviet joke. A guy comes to his doctor and starts complaining: "Doctor, it's intolerable, 10 of us live in tiny room in a communal apartment, I can't live like that anymore." The doctor suggests: "Get a pet goat and come back for a checkup in a month." So the guy comes back in a month, totally livid: "It's even worse, the goat takes up a lot of space, shits everywhere and starts baa-hing at 4AM in the morning. Everyone is suicidal." The wise doctor: "Now get rid of the goat".

Perhaps eventually they'll invent and patent their way back to a usable laptop keyboard :)

IMO, declaring bankruptcy on the current design and reverting to the previous chiclet keys would be welcomed by most users, but it seems unlikely that Apple will actually admit a mistake for a few more years (e.g. what happened with the Mac Pro).

The 2015 MacBook Pro was the last piece of great hardware from Apple, in terms of their laptops. The newer MacBooks with their gimmicky touchbar and useless keyboards, for the sake of being thin, just show Tim Cook and his advisors have no ideas other than taking advantage of Facebooks privacy disasters and trying to get consumers to keep buying Apple products because Apple is supposedly on a higher moral pedestal.

2015 MBP was great, but I also immensely enjoyed my 2013 MacBook Air. The Air's battery life, form factor and performance made it hands down the best laptop for its time.

I'm actually in the process of wiping it to give to a friend and feeling a bit of sadness. I use a 2017 MBP now - the screen is what finally got me - but you're right, todays hardware just doesn't compare to how it felt back then.

The Macbook Air form factor was, in my opinion, ideal. I have a 2011 MBA I keep around the house because it's still great.

I consider myself lucky that the store still had a few 2015 MBP left in stock when I went to buy mine. Definitely much better than that stupid touchbar stuff, and the fault keyboard.

Hm. At some level, this would be great, particularly for fluidly switching among keyboards across many languages, or even for particular games or applications (remapping the keys to functions which are nicely labeled). But it would need to get the haptic cues right, such that touch-typing remains possible and enjoyable.

One side bonus is that presumably, your keyboard would now be covered in a continuous non-permeable sheet. Combined with haptic touchpads, we're edging closer and closer to a more water-resistant laptop.

Let's give them the benefit of the doubt for a moment: the faux button on the trackpad is absolutely magical, superior in every way to a physical button.

So imagine that the "glass" of the new keyboard had physical ridges for the gutters between the keys, and then adjustable sensitivity for the force "clicks"… I could get into this. The lack of moving parts would provvide greater long-time durability, and make water damage a distant memory.

btw, see that double-vv above? Guess who's keyboard is failing for a second time? Yes, I, like many others, wouldn't mind a return to the older keyboard, but I'm also not afraid of the future. If that trackpad button is possible, I am confident that we'll see a faux keyboard of this quality at some point in my lifetime.

I don’t see how a glass screen, no matter how amazing it feels, would be better than a keyboard. Of course, any judgement I pass is far too premature and a tad unfair since it’s just a patent and I haven’t tried out the product that uses the patent.

I do think that Apple is seemingly out of ideas. I’d be happy to buy a MacBook if they fixed the problems since 2016.

>I don’t see how a glass screen, no matter how amazing it feels, would be better than a keyboard.

2007 called, it wants its arguments back -- for those were the same arguments made in favor of Blackberry and other crappy experiences compared to today's touch smartphones.

Except modern BlackBerrys provide a far more enjoyable and accurate experience than typing on glass. It's not necessarily faster, but nicer. And you even get gesture support for stuff like adding suggestions and moving the cursors around. Modern BlackBerrys run Android.

And all 10 people prefer that "more enjoyable experience", so it makes one wonder, more enjoyable to whom?

I've never understood this attitude toward BlackBerry. Not that I really care, but you'd think more people would rather have more choice, than less.

It's true that BlackBerry the company was unsuccessful at selling phones since its heyday many years ago, but they're not in that business anymore, and haven't been for years. These days, they license the BlackBerry brand and patents to companies like TCL, who've been relatively successful with phones like the KeyOne and Key2. Just because BlackBerrys (BlackBerries?) form an almost insignificant share of Android devices doesn't mean they're not good.

A glass screen on a laptop is worlds different than on a pocket sized device, where the tiny keys were arguably something to improve.

If I can already type 90 words a minute, what problem does the glass solve? I have a glass screen on my iPad, and I never type on the screen keyboard for serious work.

I’ll give Apple the benefit of the doubt and wait to see this in the final product, but your comparison to 2007 is grossly inaccurate.

Apple has yet to put out a device in the post Jobs era that made me feel like I have to have this thing in my life.

Apple and Microsoft very successfully sell very expensive keyboard covers because this argument has been valid since 2007.

The keyboard covers are for extended writing and holding the tablet up as a mini-desktop.

There are not people enamored with old style smartphone / Blackberry / T9 keyboards that wear those covers during normal phone/tablet use.

I completely agree about the trackpad - it is absolutely magical, and every time I use mine I don't even think about the button press not being "real". What I could see them doing is having a glass substrate be the actual keyboard, with haptic feedback, but overlay a plastic keyboard "structure". Kinda like those keyboard overlays that they sell for iPads that allow you to type on the screen faster and more easily. This would give you the best of both worlds - a completely sealed keyboard (no more crumbs) and the ability to touch type (sorta).

There already are actual keyboards with oled displays on the keys. Also, many business laptops (e.g. thinkpads) are already spill-proof. I don't see how the proposal here is not strictly worse than what is currently available.

That's already achieved with the iPad Pro Keyboard case keyboard. If they wanted to make water-resistant Macbooks today they could (or at least the keyboard is not the main block).

Suddenly the current MBP keyboard doesn't seem that bad.

Beautiful damage control on Apple’s part, now people will stop posting their complaints on the forums

This will be awesome for vim-ers. Imagine the keyboard symbols change to display the actions you can do in command mode. When you press "d" in command mode, the relevant keys light up to indicate the type of object you can delete.

Also in emacs, you hit ctrl-x and then the keyboard lights up to indicate any following actions you can take. It can have small text annotations with the actions, too.

Extrapolate further to power tools like Apple Logic, or Final Cut Pro, where the keyboard becomes labeled with sound and film editing actions. The keyboard can go levels deep, where you enter one mode and the keyboard reconfigures itself with actions in that mode. Not just with key symbols, but colored/delineated control areas with arbitrary graphical and animation capability.

This would basically finally take the keyboard to the next level; it has been roughly the same since the 60s. It widens the range of sensible input you can do with a keyboard by making it super intuitive to switch beteen and use arbitrary control modes.

The power is undeniable, but the true test is feel.

For emacs this is already done by which-key, which tells you about all following actions and their description.

Also, this seems only useful if you don't touch type, which seems like the opposite demographic of emacs and vim users.

First, yes emacs has this functionality. But a visual keyboard interface would make it super intuitive and direct.

Second, I disagree with the touch typing argument. Touch typing is a learned skill on an interface like the qwerty or the dvorak button layout, and has its roots in typewriting.

There are innumerable other button layouts you could "touch type" on. On a visual keyboard of course you can still touch type in the classic style in the qwerty layout. But then there are many other possible layouts allowing varying types of control, not just a layout for typing letters and numbers.

Also when you really think about it, it's pretty arbitrary that control commands in pro software and games involve letters and numbers. It's an awkward consequence of the ingrained limited keyboard layout. You should be pressing the "fire!" button not the key for typing the letter "f" (if indeed letter "f" is not occupied by some other command whose name starts with "f").

> You should be pressing the "fire!" button not the key for typing the letter "f"

Sure, keyboard layouts are arbitrary, as are keycaps (you can also buy blank keycaps if you like). There are some fun interfaces you can make if you have the flexibility as can be seen in games for the Nintendo DS or switch or some tablet apps that can be used with external screens or people using multiple keyboards, music controllers etc.. However, just like with gamepads, joysticks etc. they are controls for something else. So once the controls feel natural you stop looking at your fingers and instead look at what you are controlling. I would argue that playing a game with a gamepad or joystick or touch typing or playing an instrument are all very similar. So just like putting stickers on the fretboard of a guitar this might make things "intuitive" at first, but is rather the opposite of direct and not something you keep using.

Hey, you are assuming that a touch typer that doesn't look at the keyboard often because she doesn't receive more information when she looks down will not find information that is useful when it is indeed shown at the keyboard, because she doesn't look for it. It is a circular and flawed argument; most probably, a change of functionality of the tool will produce a change of workflow.

You are also not considering:

- you aren't either touch typer or not; it is a continuum where people look at the keyboard with decreasing frequency through time

- being a touchtyper is a multidimensional activity; on top of the muscle memory of each letter there is the muscle memory of the semantics. You might not know specific emacs chords even when being a touch typer; in this example, having information displayed would be valuable.

> Hey, you

That sounds rude...

I am assuming that a "touch typer" has her fingers on the keyboard most of the time, usually on the home row. In particular, her hands will be covering most of the keyboard. Also, even if the keyboard shows something interesting, always switching your view up- and downwards is bad ergonomics and context-switching. Thus showing that information on the screen like which-key is more useful than having to lift up your hands, read what is written on your keyboard, put you hands down again, press the now covered keys.

> a "touch typer" has her fingers on the keyboard most of the time, usually on the home row

Sure - until you need contextual help directly mapped to the actions you need to do. Then it’s just a matter of looking down. It cannot get a lot more intuitive than looking where to press if you don’t know it by heart, right? It is what we already do to learn where the letters and special characters are - just providing a higher level of meaning to the keys.

> That sounds rude...

Sorry, I did not realise this sounded rude, not my native language. In what sense does it sound rude? Too informal? Too confrontational?

There's already the Optimus keyboard family (at the least): https://www.artlebedev.com/optimus/

And, as mentioned, looking at the keyboard is the opposite of productivity.

Reminds me a lot of the ill-fated optimus keyboard.


Hopefully it doesn't cost $1000 like that did.

"it’s more of a way to enhance interaction by creating dynamic buttons that are application dependent." But this is fundamentally touch-typist unfriendly. And most serious professionals, most people who actually try to maximize their productivity, will be at some level of touch typing - not having to look at the keyboard while they type. So this makes much more sense for non-professional use cases - where the iPad might already be a winner anyway.

I wouldn't be surprised if this was just a defensive patent that never makes it into a product.

They might be assuming that most computer users nowadays never learned to touch type. Maybe they're right. Anybody know the current statistics on this?

I would bet you're right. As soon as an option was presented for using computer functions away from the PC (i.e. smartphones), people ditched the keyboard and desk.

There's a lot of lamenting about this keyboard concept, but to play devils advocate, it could also be presented as the entire keyboard for the patent but actually be meant for the Touch Bar. That way they can give the F keys some tactile feedback. The escape and F "keys" lack of feedback does not inspire confidence when typing. Having some force feedback at the very least would be an improvement. Having an actual key press would be great.

I've been hoping for something like this for some time (and have thought Apple might be moving in that direction with the Touch Bar etc). It may just be the way I type, and I may well be in a minority, but I'd much prefer a configuration with the keyboard closer to me and the trackpad elsewhere, since I actually don't use the trackpad as much as the keyboard. It'd be nice to be able to reconfigure the input surface on the fly.

I found that the ipad pro keyboard is surprisingly ergonomic, exactly because of this.

This should come as no surprise. Apple has been on a crusade against buttons for years. Trackpads are now haptic, the iphones have cast aside the home button years ago.

Ive, and Apple by extension, view buttons as the waste of screen space. Replacing the bottom laptop panel with a touchscreen does present some interesting usability options. It also worries me that we are moving ever closer to OS X being replaced with some version of iOS instead of the other way around.

This sounds an awful lot like the notoriously awful membrane keyboard on the Sinclair ZX81.


So the current MacBook is going to seem like a good deal over at the Apple office, where most developers dread to have one of the new ones assigned to them and hope for an older one without the touchpad.

Did you ever try to use Idea or IntelliJ with the new one? Fuck those function keys! ..

If you haven't already, go into Keyboard settings, shortcuts, function keys, and assign IntelliJ as an app that always has the F keys open so you don't need to press fn first.

What is the latest MacBook to not have a touchpad?

I think he meant Touch Bar

Probably means the touch bar, in which case pre-Late 2016.

Is it just me or does it look like the top touchscreen layer would wear out fast, constantly being "inverted"/bent for every keystroke.

Yet another way to increase failure rates and repair costs, just what the MBP needs.

To be fair, I'd think it more likely Apple would just remove the keyboard and sell you a dongle to plug an external one in than this. Although right now I wouldn't put it past them.

That's what they sell iPad for

This opens up possibility for keyboard that acts as touchpad if you press and slide finger. Like on the iPhone. And that, by removing touchpad opens possibility of smaller MacBook.

Few years ago they patented some tactile LCD matrix

I look forward to Apple releasing a small, light laptop with a keyboard as reliable as my 2011 MacBook Air.

I'd rather daily driver a ZX80.

I bet they also get rid of all the ports, including the charger.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact