As Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) pushes to make its products sleeker, simpler and more comfortable to use, the company’s ability to offer consumers a functional keyboard that doesn’t detract from the look and contemporary feel of its devices might lead it to new frontiers.
Or maybe not. But the creator of user-friendly products such as the iPhone and iPad certainly has been thinking about ways to reinvent the keyboard. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company filed a patent application, titled “Single Support Lever Keyboard Mechanism,” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to create a low-profile keyboard for use with thin-profile computing devices, such as the MacBook Air and, possibly, computer tablets. The application was filed in August 2010, but was published only last week and then discussed by AppleInsider and a number of other tech and new sites.
There’s no indication that Apple plans to actually develop this smaller and lighter keyboard and bring it to market, but the concept offers insight into the design elements the company might consider were it to revise one of the staples of PC input. Apple’s design calls for single-support lever system that would provide each key with enough resistance and “travel” depth so that typing on the keyboard would provide the right combination of touch and feel. One feature of the keyboard is that its key caps could be made from any of a surprising variety of materials, including glass, wood, stone, and even “polished meteorite.”
In keeping with Apple style
While Apple’s efforts of course are largely to support its own design needs, a significantly improved, super-lightweight keyboard likely would attract plenty of attention. It also could spawn a new line of accessories for future Apple devices, and spur copycat designs from PC specialists such as Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ ) and computer and video accessory manufacturers such as Logitech (NASDAQ:LOGI) and Creative Technology (PINK:CREAF).
Apple has long been trying to keep clutter on its gadgets to a minimum, dropping buttons from the iPhone, burying the guts of its iMac in the screen, and imposing sleek design imperatives on all of its products.
One of its most recent iMac keyboards features a wireless connection and is designed, according to Apple, to take up almost 24% less desk space than regular desktop keyboards. It also features a low-profile aluminum cover and responsive keys, requires only two regular AA alkaline batteries—one fewer than the previous iMac keyboard—and automatically powers down when not in use. It’s minimalist, but it’s quite some distance from the super thin and light keyboard suggested by the patent application.