Innovation

Patent shows Apple could be working on MacBook without a keyboard

This patent describes a reconfigurable touchpad-type surface that may put an end to the keyboard as we know it.

Image: Apple

In 2009, satirical news site The Onion wrote a post about a new addition to the MacBook line — a MacBook without a keyboard.

The Onion joked that instead of keys, the laptop, called the MacBook Wheel, would have a giant click wheel. "At Apple, our philosophy is create products that are simple to use, and nothing's more simple than a single giant button," a fake product manager said.

The MacBook Wheel might have been a poke at the tech company, but seven years later, a patent has surfaced showing that Apple is indeed considering how to make a laptop without a keyboard. The name of the filing is: A configurable, force-sensitive input structure for an electronic device.

In the keyboard's place would be something like a large trackpad. According to the patent, there would be a light source that would shine through holes in the casing, and that combination of holes and lights could form the key boundaries and symbols. The ability for reconfiguration could go beyond that as the patent says: "the input structure is configured to provide a group of interchangeable input devices within the at least one input area formed on at least the portion of the contact portion."

So perhaps it could be a keyboard or gamepad, or whatever else as needed.

Also, some element of haptic feedback would be involved in the trackpad.

The argument that Apple sets up in the patent is that with a traditional keyboard and trackpad, there are many parts, including the keys that have to jut out of the laptop casing. There are keycaps, internal dome switches, keycap apertures — and all of those make the device susceptible to damage. Spilled coffee. Cheetos dust. The list goes on. Also, any of those components can break, leaving the device vulnerable.

"In combination with some components being positioned on the outside of the casing where a number of components are used to form each of the conventional input devices, if a single component is damaged, lost, or becomes inoperable, the entire input device may become inoperable," it says.

Your keyboard is a time bomb, essentially.

Also see

About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox