The United States Patent Office must love Apple. If any company keeps them in business, it has to be the Cupertino-based computer company. It seems like not a day goes by that there isn’t at least one Apple patent being filed. This time it was MacRumors that uncovered a new keyboard concept the company is working on that would eliminate the need for you ever using a mouse or trackpad ever again.
Back in 2005 Apple acquired a company named FingerWorks, and that firm’s technology led to much of Apple’s multi-touch products we see today. Apparently the talent from that acquisition is still kicking around as John Elias, co-founder of FingerWorks filed the patent for the “Image Processing for Camera Based Motion Tracking ” keyboard.
Apparently the keyboard would use a series of small cameras to trace your hands movements to interpret them as motions that you would do on a mouse. The cameras would be toggled on via a switch so you wouldn’t accidentally move the cursor around while typing. Here are the images included with the filing that show how it would work.
Where the application takes an odd turn is in the description of what this would replace:
Conventional mechanical keyboards are generally accepted as the preferred means to provide textual input. These keyboards have mechanical keys that are configured to move independently of one another and comply with standards for key spacing and actuation force. These keyboards are also arranged in the so-called QWERTY layout. Over the last forty years there have been numerous attempts made to introduce an alternative to the standard keyboard. The changes include, but are not limited to, non-QWERTY layouts, concave and convex surfaces, capacitive keys, split designs, membrane keys, etc. However, although such alternative keyboards may provide improved usability or ergonomics, they have failed to replace or duplicate the commercial success of the conventional mechanical keyboard.
We don’t see this as a replacement for the keyboard, but as an attempted replacement at the mouse and/or trackpad. And that’s where we have to take a step back. This would be interesting for simple gestures, but there’s no way it could replace the mouse for more complicated actions. Can you imagine a graphic artist having to hover their hands all day? A animator? What about someone working in a customer service call center?
Say what you will about the mouse, it is an aging technology, but there’s a reason it’s still here: it works.
Of course, with Apple patents there is always a chance this will never see the light of day, but I wouldn’t put it past them to give it a try.
What say you? Do you have any interest in a keyboard like this?