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Apple patents a keyless keyboard

tablet keyboard

By Julian Benson

Posted on 26 Jul 2011 at 15:07

Apple has patented a design for a keyboard with no moving parts, just a glass panel covering a graphical display.

Using acoustic and piezo-electric sensors, the system compares the sound made by tapping the screen to a “database of reference acoustic signatures” to determine which key is being used, according to the patent filing.

Three sensors within the keyboard – one at the top and two at the sides – would be “sufficiently precise” to triangulate the position of the tap, said the filing. The database should also be able to differentiate between taps and innocuous contact such as resting on the screen.

A traditional Qwerty layout would be displayed on the screen below the glass for users to tap away on, but the graphical display means software designers can switch between traditional input layouts and bespoke designs.

The patent filing called touchscreen keyboards “less reliable” than traditional ones, saying they “often require that a user tap on the screen several times before detecting the command” and can't distinguish “when a user is merely resting on the surface of the device or actively selecting a letter”.

The concept isn't new: the Acer Iconia Touchbook announced earlier this year has a dual-screen design, with the secondary screen being used as a touchscreen keyboard. And Apple, of course, offers a touchscreen keyboard on the iPad.

According to Patently Apple, the company has been investigating such keyboards since at least 2009. The company filed its first keyboard patent that year, and followed it up with two more this year.

The patent could provide a clue for future designs of Apple laptops, with the company gradually implementing touch features into successive releases of OS X. It could also potentially be used in a patent war with other tablet and laptop manufacturers.

Listen to this week's PC Pro podcast - out Thursday - for Jon Honeyball's views on Apple's touchscreen laptop plans.

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User comments

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By Throbinevans on 26 Jul 2011

Not "patents" ...

They haven't patented it yet, the patent application has only published so far.

No wonder people get up in arms about what would be called "software" patents that really are just for computer programs, when every simple publication of a patent application is reacted to with "x patents y".

Just because it's published doesn't mean it's ever going to get granted...

By jmuddiman on 26 Jul 2011

What did you say?

A "Keyless"... keyboard ??

Surely, if it has no Keys, it should not be called a Keyboard.

A "Keyless Alpha Numerical Input Device" perhaps?

By lenmontieth on 26 Jul 2011

Cool leaf from Japan - done already

http://www.minebea.co.jp/english/coolleaf/index.ht
ml

By nicomo on 26 Jul 2011

i.tech laser keyboard - done already

though not new itech long ago came out with a virtual keyboard-if having no physical keys is the requirement

By invalidscreenname on 26 Jul 2011

Stand by Molly Wood

Sorry to reference a 'rival' but the BoL crew will love this ;-)

Next apple will be trying to patent fruit as if THEY were the first to think up a long standing utiliesd concept.

The worlds going to hell in a handcart! I'm off to retrain as a patent lawyer, growth area I'm told :-0

By ITZ_Go_One on 27 Jul 2011

@lenmontieth

A keyless keyboard = a board?

By jamesyld on 27 Jul 2011

Not just "a board"

iBoard

By Lomskij on 27 Jul 2011

No one thinks of anything before Apple

Sorry guys but these so-called companies who supposedly beat Apple to the keyless keyboard will shortly find out that it's not what you invent or when, but how good a lawyer you can afford.

By Lacrobat on 27 Jul 2011

Poor reporting

I get fed up reading these scare stories. As jmuddiman says, Apple have filed a patent application, it's now up to the patent examiners to decide whether this warrants granting as a full patent when it moves to the substansive phase. If Apple can demonstrate novelty over the prior art, why shouldn't they be able to protect their invention?

By russell_g on 27 Jul 2011

Gee, thanks, Apple. I always wanted to ruin my finger joints sooner by hammering my fingertips into an unyielding surface. Who needs the damping provided by springs?

By AlexM on 27 Jul 2011

Why bother?

When capacitive touch screens already exist? Acoustic/vibration signatures are far too prone to error to provide a reliable alternative to today's tech which is already reliable and in mass production. Was this application filed in 1987, or on April 1st by any chance?

By PaleRider on 27 Jul 2011

@ russell_g

On prior form its a shoe in. Every touchscreen manufacture in the world will soon be paying (rottern) apple 30% if they want to use the touchscreen to capture a finger input!

By ITZ_Go_One on 27 Jul 2011

Err... it's already been done using acoustics...
http://www.inputdynamics.com/Home.html

By tom502 on 28 Jul 2011

Read the article

What Apple are attempting to patent is a method of detecting where a user has tapped on a surface and mapping this to an overlaid keyboard image. This is EXACTLY what the patent system is for. This is not a gimmicky software patent application, it is an attempt to protect an inventive step. Input Dynamics technology is different in both technique and application. Apple may or may not make patent applications that are unworthy or frivolous (to the detriment of the industry) but this is not one of them (assuming it is novel and has not been done and published first elsewhere).

By freeborn on 28 Jul 2011

Read the comments

Freeborn: what people are grumbling about is either the plausibility (and thus value) of such an invention, or whether it is indeed novel, or (again) whether it should be reported as "Apple patents XYZ", when what has happened is Apple has started the application process for whatever reason it sees fit.

Nobody seems to be mentioning gimmicky software patents except you.

By PaleRider on 28 Jul 2011

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