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MacBook with touch interface instead of keyboard revealed in Apple patent

Could Apple be about to reinvent how its MacBook keyboards work? An interesting new patent certainly points at that possibility.

Before going into the specifics of each idea, it’s worth remembering that the MacBook Pro and iPhone X maker patents an awful lot of things, and not all of it sees the light of day. All the same, it’s an interesting insight into both the creative design process and where Apple is dedicating its thinking.

Related: Best MacBook deals

Each part of the patent concerns a touch-sensitive panel replacing the keyboard entirely. In essence, the whole keyboard area becomes like the touch bar found on the more expensive range of recent MacBook Pros.

Labelled diagrams of MacBook keyboard's patent ideas

Before you recoil in horror, there are several potential advantages to this strategy. Firstly, it means you can customise the keyboard layout to your liking, with different layouts for different activities.

Secondly, it should prevent crumbs, bits of skin and other nasty fragments getting lodged in while you hammer away at the keys. To get away from the slightly uncomfortable feeling of tapping away at glass, Apple could provide haptic feedback to give the illusion of resistance.

This won’t be enough for some, which may well explain the second solution, which is a keyboard overlay that can be applied over the top of the bottom screen. If you’ve ever seen snap-on keyboard covers for phones, you’ll know the drill here.

Crucially, it’ll mean that people who miss a physical keyboard can have one when they need it – when writing a long email, for example – and ditch it when they don’t.

A labelled diagram of MacBook keyboard's patent ideas

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The final version relates to a waterproof flexible membrane that covers this giant touchpad, designed to be as flat as possible and flush with the rest of the housing. It would be far closer to the current design, but still substantially different to what we’re used to at the moment.

Again, patents are just that: placeholders for ideas that may never see the light of day. All the same, it’s interesting to see where Apple is looking to innovate on the laptop side of things.

Do you think the keyboard as we know it needs fixing? Let us know on Twitter @TrustedReviews.

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