Apple's New Keyboards Could Predict What You're Going to Type

A patent made public this week shows how air pumps could make typing on tiny keyboards as accurate as using one standard size


Earlier this week, Apple Insider discovered a patent that had been quietly filed by Apple back in 2009 and only recently made public by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The patent is for a new kind of keyboard that can predict what it is you're going to type before you even type it.

Named "Input Devices and Methods of Operation," the patent (one image from the filing is included above) details two ways that the new keyboards might make their predictive abilities known. A small pump and valve system could push compressed air out through a hole at the top of each key or a pneumatic source might raise or lower the keys that the board thinks a user might hit. The patent describes these actions, respectively, as a system that would "flow air from the input device" and another system used to "advance the selected key in a direction of actuation in response to detecting user selection."

The idea is not to build keyboards for the elite or for those who believe themselves less likely to suffer carpal tunnel syndrome if they don't have to push their keys down as far, but to find a way to successfully shrink the size of keyboards. Consumers have long complained that it takes too long to readjust to typing when they purchase a gadget that relies on smaller keys and, as computers continue to shift in thickness and size (a MacBook at 15 inches, for example; an iPad at a fraction of that; and an iPhone at a fraction of that still), it's hard to argue which keyboard size should be the default. Imagine if the keyboard you used for your desktop was the same size as that you use on your iPhone. You would be able to adjust -- eventually -- to one standard size, but the idea is absurd.

The air that might soon be pumped out of Apple's smaller keyboards could be carefully calibrated to provide a similar level of tactile feedback to the user as a larger, air-less keyboard. "A smaller keyboard might limit the tactile feedback a user feels on their fingertips while typing," Apple Insider explains. "This is as a result of keys that do not travel as far when press on, say, a much thinner keyboard." Calibrating keyboards of different sizes to feel and function as one universal standard could result in more accurate typing. The only downside? No more funny phone text messaging failures.

Image: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.