Apple has caught some heat designing increasingly thinner and lighter MacBook Pro systems seemingly at the expense of a proper typing experience, and there was even a class action lawsuit filed last year because of it. The underlying issue is the redesigned butterfly keyboard. Apple has taken measures to improve the typing experience, but looking ahead, it might scrap the butterfly keyboard altogether and replace it with glass panel plank.
What seems to be causing all the fuss with the current design is that dust particles manage to creep inside, causing they keys to malfunction. This has led to a higher-than-usual failure rate. MacBook owners have also been frustrated that even when they have their systems serviced and repaired, the same issue can happen again.
Apple tried solving the problem by inserting a membrane under the keycaps to prevent debris from gunking up the butterfly mechanism. It's not clear how effective that has been. Either way, Apple may move to a different style of keyboard in future models.
In a recently discovered patent application with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Apple describes a keyboard that replaces removable keys with a glass sheet. This sheet has raised sections designed to give the user a tactile feel when pressing a key.
"A device may include a display portion that includes a display housing and a display at least partially within the display housing. The device may also include a base portion pivotally coupled to the display portion and including a bottom case, a top case coupled to the bottom case and defining an array of raised key regions, and a sensing system below the top case and configured to detect an input applied to a raised key region of the array of raised key regions," Apple explains.
The concept is sort of an evolution of a virtual keyboard, such as those found on smartphones and tablets. What's different is that Apple envisions mimicking the feel of a traditional keyboard. The patent application describes the use of a raised side wall around the raised key areas, which could deform when pressed. Multiple layers could even allow the keys to buckle.
Whether this design makes it past the concept stage remains to be seen. Part of that might depend on how costly it is to implement, versus continuing to tweak the current butterfly keyboard design.