We have seen trackpads integrated into computer keyboards for use with tablets and portable setups because it isn’t particularly convenient to lug around a mouse wherever you take your computer. Apple has recently patented a keyboard with a section that can be detached to function as a mouse.
Computer mice have become virtually indispensable to navigate through labyrinthine graphical user interface (GUI) menus and perform precise tasks. Could you imagine computer-aided design (CAD), PC gaming, or even editing documents without the convenience of a mouse and its scroll wheel? Technically, it isn’t impossible and you can operate a MacBook with a keyboard but Apple thinks it’s worth the effort to make it easier to carry your mouse around with you.
A patent recently granted to the Cupertino giant explains that a keyboard with an integrated detachable mouse can be constructed such that the mouse buttons work as keyboard buttons when conjoint, but as mouse buttons when separated. Apple intends to rely on a position sensor to ascertain when the mouse is detached and when it isn’t. Apple hopes its “removable key structure” can provide for a “comfortable, portable, and precise pointer input” system.
This system can be particularly useful in MacBooks where a standalone mouse must be connected as a peripheral device. Current design implementations force MacBooks to include trackpads, but things could be a lot different if Apple deployed such technology.
The patent also lays claim to several other “embodiments” of the concept, such as those with only a single key detaching and keys with touch-sensitive zones to serve as mouse buttons.
Each key on a keyboard is smaller than a mouse button and isn’t even as ergonomic. Standalone mice, wired or otherwise, are contoured for comfort. Keyboards are also designed with a degree of ergonomics in mind but since they have traditionally served a different purpose, their ergonomics aren’t on par with mice. Moreover, integrating a trackpad with a keyboard is fairly straightforward because one can just position the trackpad beside the keys for typing. A detachable mouse constructed out of keyboard keys is a different ball game.
In Apple’s patented implementation, we wonder how we would substitute the keyboard keys that are detached for use as a mouse. Several other details such as the retention mechanism and design details remain unclear at this time. Since this is just a patent, it is also possible that Apple never commissions a production run and the concept remains just an idea.
Do you fancy using a keyboard where you can separate some keys to serve as a mouse? Would it catch on as a mainstream product if Apple releases it? Tell us in the comments.[Via USPTO]