The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted a patent to Apple that describes the functions of what is termed as the 'Fusion keyboard'. The keyboard is said to come fitted with capacitive touch sensors on top, facilitating simultaneous multi-touch input with intelligent algorithms.
The keyboard with the help of the touch sensors over the mechanical keys would be able to detect multi-touch finger gestures such as taps and swipes, functions which are currently recognised by the MacBook's touchpad. Other touchpad gestures like click, scroll, drag, select, zoom and more can be done without removing the hands from the keyboard.
Furthermore, the keyboard can also recognise inputs from users' hands individually. This means that it can detect when one hand is entering text data and other is managing cursor control simultaneously, or vice-versa.
The document (via AppleInsider) also reveals the fusion keyboard to come with two-position switches for the mechanical keys, which will give different outputs at each of the two levels. One of the images detailing the functions show the first level of depression to give a result text output, while further pressing the key would generate a different command signal resembling to a mouse click. As for the hardware, the different output signals can be recognized via a double-dome switch or a membrane setup.
The patent also details several time-based processing techniques included to differentiate a touch input from physical key depressions. For instance if a key detects a touch input with no corresponding keystroke within a predetermined time, it will recognise a touch input. Also, if touch input is detected along with a key depression in a certain time, it recognises it as a regular keystroke.
As with all patents, it remains uncertain whether the product or technology described will ever reach the market in a recognisable form. While certainly an interesting input method, it may be too difficult to control for most users, leading to unwanted inputs. We have started seeing Apple experimenting with what could be called a similar pressure sensitive technology with its Force Touch input on its 12-inch MacBook touchpad and on the Apple Watch.