Apple has been granted a patent that imagines using an OLED or LCD display as a dynamic keyboard — hinting at a possible addition to the MacBook or iPad Pro lineup.
Patent number 9,904,502, titled “Dual display equipment with enhanced visibility and suppressed reflections,” was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week. It basically describes a device with two displays: one as an actual screen, and the other doubling as a dynamic keyboard.
The patent offers two possible implementations of the dual-display design. One would use a detachable hinge that would allow the primary display to be removed and used as a tablet-like device, while the other would use a permanent hinge. The language also describes how one display could use LCD technology, while the other would rely on OLED.
That secondary display could be used as a keyboard, allowing for contextual keys and even different language layouts on the fly. It could also allow for the entire keyboard to double as a Wacom-style sketching or drawing surface.
Of course, with a double-display design, there’s always the possibility of unwanted glare or reflections between the two screens. Luckily, Apple’s patent also details a method for mitigating this with polarizing layers and wave plates.
Apple’s Other Touchscreen Keyboard Patents
This isn’t the first Apple patent that describes a digital touchscreen keyboard, however.
Last May, Apple applied for a patent that also details a dual-display design. In that patent, the secondary display could be used as a trackpad, keyboard, or other contextual controls as needed by a user. Another patent from 2016 describes a similar idea.
And while it’s a different implementation altogether, Apple has apparently toyed with a new generation of keyboards that would use E Ink to allow for contextual keys and various language layouts.
What Are Apple’s Plans?
Replacing a traditional keyboard for a digital one would do away with the satisfying tactile and mechanical feel beloved by many computer users. And Apple has resisted switching its MacBook lineup to a 2-in-1 style design. In the Apple ecosystem, the iPad Pro already occupies that space.
So it’s unlikely that the patent describes an entire generation of MacBook devices. Rather, it’s probably describing a standalone device or accessory.
Another possible scenario is an all-new iPad Pro device that’s even closer to a full-fledged computer, with its own standalone keyboard that could double as a drawing pad. In the detachable implementation, the patent could be describing a future iPad Pro cover that could switch between a keyboard or a drawing surface at will.
Of course, not all of Apple’s patents actually end up being used in a consumer product. So, until we hear otherwise, it’s best to take any patent applications with a grain of salt.