New Apple MacBooks Could Gain Customizable Keyboard Sensitivity According To Patent

It appears that Apple is bound and determined to improve the keyboard on its MacBook Pro system in some way, shape, or form. Exactly how remains to be seen. We've heard rumors of Apple swapping out the top row of Function keys for touch sensitive control that display icons based on the app a person is using, but that might not be all it has up its sleeve. A newly published patent application from Apple describes a MacBook keyboard that would allow users to adjust the sensitivity of the keys.

Apple correctly surmises in its patent application that "certain users may prefer certain keyboards (and/or keys) to have specific electromechanical properties," further noting that some users might have a preference for "rigid and deep keys" while others would rather "type with spongy and short keys." The Cupertino outfit will find no argument from us—it's why we review a mechanical keyboards with a range of key switches. Different (key)strokes for different folks, and all that jazz.

Apple Keyboard Patent Drawing

One solution that's not mentioned in the patent application would be to let users swap out their MacBook's built-in keyboard. That could be a bit cumbersome. Instead of going that route, Apple wants to give users a way of customizing the typing experience of a keyboard, However, that would require "modification of multiple components of each electromechanical actuator specifically because of the electrical, tactile, and mechanical functionality of the depressible key are tightly coupled and interdependent." In short, customizing keyboards as they exist now would be complicated, time consuming, and likely costly.

"Accordingly, there may be a present need for systems and methods for decoupling the mechanical and tactile functionality of depressible keys from the electrical functionality of depressible keys," Apple states in its patent application.

Apple Patent Keyboard Drawing

Apple's solution does exactly that by replacing the electrical contacts and traces with non-contact proximity sensors. This allows key travel and feedback to remain virtually unchanged. To allow for adjustments, Apple's design uses a light emitter directed at the bottom of a reflective keycap. The electrical signal that's generated is processed by the keyboard controller and determines when a key actuates based on the amount of force applied.

Tactile feedback would be processed separately using different materials and an optical sensor mechanism. The end result is a keyboard that's customizable and cost effective to implement.