back to article Apple seeks patent for keyboard that sucks

Apple has applied for a patent that describes a novel method for improving the tactile feedback of ultra-thin keyboards: each key emits a puff of air when either approached or touched, and can be pneumatically sucked downward in response to touch. When we discovered patent application number 20110107958, "Input devices and …


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  1. ratfox Silver badge

    An Apple patent?

    Prior art!!1!

    Errr... Hang on, I guess it is extremely unlikely that there will be prior art in something that weird. I guess every rule does have an exception, then. I'll get my coat.

    1. scarshapedstar

      Patent #745839275894

      A method for responding to a reverse-troll post.

      - Apple Inc.

    2. RegisterThis

      Definitely prior art out there ...

      ... I have used lots of keyboards that suck!

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Prior art

      The Pneumatic Player Piano, circa 1880.

  2. PaulR79
    Thumb Up


    Now we can have a keyboard that detects how hard a key is pressed and go from normal, to bold, to caps then increase the font depending on the rage .... I mean pressure applied. Angry caps lock typists rejoice.

    1. The Cube

      I think you'll find Yamaha already patented that

      Or perhaps Steinway and Sons when manufacturing their Piano Forte....

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: I think you'll find Yamaha already patented that


        The US patent system is broken in many ways. One of the ways it's broken is that taking existing technology and applying that to a new field can be patentable (or so I'm told, by patent attorneys). So although "keys that do different levels depending on how far you push them" is well-known in the "musical instruments" field, it might well be novel and patentable in the "computer / phone keyboards" field.

        1. Charles Manning

          And unfortunately the step can be quite small

          Prior art on a full-size keyboard is suddenly novel if applied to a cell phone.

    2. Stephen Bungay

      @ PaulR79

      Errr... no we don't. Nowhere does the article mention that the keyboard registers the ferocity with which the user has struck the keyboard.... although that would be easy to do with some strain gauges mounted under the keys.

      A patent for an actual physical invention... kind of refreshing. Of course as one other pointed out here they don't actually know how to do it in a slim keyboard... so although it CAN be done the keyboard probably would be more bulky than a full stroke job... kind of counter-productive this.

  3. NorthernSands

    And maybe not...

    I'm all for advances in technology, where-ever it may be found. Maybe this will come of age sometime, but if it's designed for low-profile devices, that tends to indicate low-power devices too. Won't this require more power?

    Regardless, I find the tactile feedback of a Thinkpad keyboard perfectly adequate, and much better than most desktop keyboards.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up


      Accept no compromise, what you really need is a Model M

      *Like this one 1985and stillgoingstrong thoughthe space bar can be a bit flaky.)

      1. Curtis

        IBM model M

        Pop the spacebar off and make sure the guide rods are in their track. It's a common problem and I fix like 10/week

  4. Flybert


    I''''''''''''''''mmmmm ttryyinnnngg oooooooonneeeeeee ooooooooooooooffffffffff teehhhhheeeeeeeessssssssssee oooooooouuuuutttttttttttttttt rrrrriiiiiiiiigggggghhhtttttttttt nnnnnnnooooooooooowwwwwww,,,,,,,,,, hhhhhooooooooooowwwweeeeeeevvvvveeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrr,,, ttttttthhhhhheeeeeeeeeeee vvvvvvaaaaaacccccccuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmm tttttthhhhhhiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnngggggggg nnneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeddddddsssss aaaaaaaaaaa bbbiiiiiittttttttttttttttttt oooofffffffffffffffffffffff wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwoooooorrrrkkkkk

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      and another cup of tea goes over the keyboard


      1. stucs201

        Hmmm, that gives me an idea

        A keyboard that can detect incomming tea/coffee/beer and turn up the blowers in the keyboard to divert the liquid away from the keys.

        (of course you'd need another setting for drying your face off afterwards).

    2. dssf

      Looks like you need a modified keyboard...

      One that will be organic/self-cleaning, hahaha In the hands of SOME fans, it will NEED to be self-cleaning and self-sanitising, hehehe.

      1. asdf
        Thumb Up

        go samsung

        Samsung were bragging about their nano silver coating sanitizing their keyboards. Get it while you can until they figure out it causes cancer.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Will it still work...

    ...when full of crumbs and other bits from eating my lunch at my desk. This one may cope with that even less than the one with the transparent 'crumb tray'.

    P.S. WTF are they smoking and can I have some?

    1. LaeMing

      worse than sandwitch crumbs!

      Cheeto residue.

      1. Peter Ford

        Smoking Cheeto residue?

        Wow, that s**t's strong, man!

  6. Anton Ivanov
    Thumb Up

    I am going to disagree with the reg on this one

    This is actually likely to work and provide feedback even on keyboards that are even thinner than those which apple ships with nowdays Macs. It is also inventive (for once) and original.

    1. Naughtyhorse


      have you ever seen a compressor?

      what volume of air needs to be moved? how many keystrokes per minute???

      monstrous harbles

      1. Richard 120


        I know I'll patent an idea of a device which is really small and can both blow and suck, and of course it'll use some kind of really small tubing moulded into the thin keyboard or something like that.

        From what I can gather I don't actually need to provide information on how it actually works, just what it does.

        Then when Apple realise they need something to do that then they'll have to pay me. Kaching!

  7. jon 72


    A keyboard that blows the crumbs out by itself..

    1. Elmer Phud


      It farts in your general direction

    2. Anonymous John

      I'm waiting for the Mark II

      I want a keyboard that pumps the coffee back into the mug.

  8. jake Silver badge

    During the meanwhile ...

    I'll stick to my IBM Model Ms ... Nobody has ever built a better keyboard for touch-typists.

    1. SuccessCase

      Yes, model m, very good.

      But I bet you haven't tried tried "Das Keyboard." I promise you, it is better, (but expensive)

    2. Ilsa Loving

      re: During the meanwhile...

      Is that what they're for? With the amount of force you need to apply to press each key, I thought they were input devices for rock climbers looking to strengthen their forearms. Not to mention being loud enough that people in the office next door know every time you press a key.

      That being said, it's the only keyboard I know of that doubles as a personal protection device.

  9. Drew 11

    Big yawn

    Pretty sure this was stolen from the ZX81 keyboard. Well, a worn one, anyway.

    1. Danny 14
      Thumb Up

      sort of

      I was thinking the spectrum. Those rubber keys farted air on you when they started splitting.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    I know it's Apple but...

    This sounds awesome. They could put little whistles on the vents so your keyboard can sing while you type.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Really Rik

    "if it had been filed on April 1"

    Are you now going even farther into the abyss of cashing in on Apple name by poking fun at perfectly good patents?

    1. Baskitcaise

      missing tag?

      I am not sure why people would give you a thumbs down on this post, Oh yes you seem to have missed the "/sarcasm" tag for those who are a bit slow/hungover on a Sunday morning.

  12. M Gale

    Wait, what?

    An Apple patent, on buttons?

    Doesn't El Steve-o have some kind of pathological aversion to them?

    1. Chris 15
      Thumb Up

      well actually

      it's intended for use on the new Apple Simple Keyboard. WIth just 6 Keys. For the Simple people with Apple computers ;)

  13. Chris 3

    Sounds to me like...

    .... a rather clever way of doing way with springs and whatnot. I rather hope it has 'cleaning mode' which will blow crumbs out.

  14. neek


    1. sit in front of iDevice

    2. emit self-satisfied smug 'ahhhh!'

    3. smug sensors activate an air blast from all keys and the lid pops open automatically

    Where do I file?

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      where do yoo file?

      USPTO, obviously

      You may need to add a smugness detector (like that of Marvin the paranoid android)

  15. JDX Gold badge

    Hating to like the idea but...

    Isn't this more useful for something like a touch-screen with a virtual keyboard? A touchscreen which can give tactile information on the keys would certainly be very valuable.

    1. Shakje

      So you want a monitor which has lots of holes in it?

      Type your comment here -- plain text only, no HTML

  16. annodomini2


    BRRRRRRRRRRRRRR, but louder!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At least there is real creativity in this patent

    Unlike this other for patent for "Graphical user interface for a display screen of a communications terminal",372.PN.&OS=PN/D599,372&RS=PN/D599,372

    No this one was not awarded to Apple, but to a well known company in Mountain View, California famous for it's search engine, dubious privacy concerns and an open source operating system for which you can't get the source.

    1. Stupidscript
      Thumb Down

      @+++ath0: Get out much?

      There ya go. Nothing more to complain about, I guess.

  18. scarshapedstar
    Jobs Halo


    "Nowhere in the filing, however, is a discussion of how all this keystroke-enhancing technology can be fit into a keyboard without making it bulkier than it would be otherwise, even though the solutions it proposes are specifically targeted at enhancing tactile feedback in low-profile devices"

    It goes without saying, sir, that this device would also generate a Reality Distortion Field which would effortlessly reduce the volume of this pneumatic machinery. Furthermore, the hissing noises it generates will sound friendly and not snake-like.

    1. horsham_sparky

      Actually its very feasible

      Actually, all the technology to achieve this has already been invented and is in some cases already mature. Most of it will be based on MEMs (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) which is basically technology which can implement moving parts on a microscopic scale, usually (but not always) implemented on silicon. Examples of these technologies:

      MEMs pump:

      MEMs pressure sensor:

      MEMs ultrasonic transducer (could be used as a proximity sensor)

      To me this is perfectly feasible, and could probably done in a cost effective way (thanks to economies of scale). The real question is why would you want to? a technology that sucks and blows.. well don't the big bad MS have the monopoly on that? :-)

  19. Vic

    Are they mad?

    Pneumatic systems in keyboards?

    That's not going to get leaky/noisy/broken in short order...


  20. Jason Yau
    Paris Hilton

    Blows and sucks?

    Paris - for obvious reasons.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    If only money was no object...

    How expensive will this make Apple keyboards? Their systems (particularly the laptops) are already highly priced. Longevity has already been raised as a concern (but then again, some have suggested they might be self cleansing), however more parts means more expensive and more things that can go wrong.

    Maybe I'm a heathen but I don't see what is wrong with the tactile feedback in Apple's present keyboards. Yes I'm a touch-typist... not the fastest but I'm no seek-and-peck button pusher. Usually these low-profile keyboards are mainly used where space *is* limited such as on laptops. While some of us would love an IBM Model M style keyboard (buckling springs) on such a machine, there are many scenarios when such keyboards are inappropriate.

  22. DJV Silver badge

    Yeah, but...

    ...will they ever get this technology working on holographically projected keyboards?

    1. stucs201

      re: holographically projected keyboards

      Feedback for those could be achieved by aiming a laser at your fingertip, just enough power to feel the warming as feedback. To encourage higher typing speeds increase the power so the user moves on faster.

      (dammit, where's our laser icon?)

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    'describes a number of different embodiments that combine blowing and sucking in various combinations'

    There goes my coffee.

  24. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    When it goes faulty

    and the suction bit starts to suck when it shouldn't, it might even start typing for you.

    I wonder how many of these keyboards it would take to re-produce the works of Shakespeare?

    Keyboard icon? Well....

  25. A handle is required

    Suggested name


    1. Mike Arthur


      surely iSuck is more appropriate :)

  26. Gannon (J.) Dick


    Some headlines almost write themselves. Other's descend from Slacker Journalist Heaven fully formed, ripe and inescapable. (This is a type 2)

  27. nyelvmark
    Paris Hilton

    Suck, blow

    ...but no squeeze or bang? Definitely sounds like Paris.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    nsfw keyboard

    just don´t put your pants down before shutdown the computer

  29. The Alpha Klutz

    keyboard that sucks?

    I'll give it a week, maybe two, before it's completely clogged up with dust and therefore useless.

    But when it is broken, at least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that it cost you a significant amount of money.

  30. BitBotherer

    Hot air

    Not to bothered about quality keyboards at the speed I type but maybe it could dual function by removing the heat from the processor. Could be driven by the waste heat, theres a green idea,

    1. LaeMing

      All sounds rather steampunk to me.

      Ow. My fingertips are burning!

  31. Arctic fox

    That's all we need, a bit of dust and.... will sound like Darth Vader with a bad case of bronchial pneumonia.

  32. madmalc
    Thumb Down

    New failure mode for keyboards

    Lets make keyboards fail in more complex ways

  33. lawndart


    Day 1: New keyboard goes on sale.

    Day 2: Tech-head disassembles keyboard, uprates the air compressor and fits a petrol engine - reveals a keyboard that can double as a self stabilizing hover-board when inverted.

    Day 3: Massed rush to duplicate the hover-keyboard.

    Day 4: First person arrives at work on hover-keyboard.

    Day 5: First competition hover-keyboard typing contest where the contestants type documents by manoeuvring over a small bump in an otherwise flat surface.

    Day 6: First death by hover-keyboard when rider flips in traffic.

    Day 7: Government knee-jerk overreaction bans all keyboards of any ilk to protect the children.

    Day 8: Unable to function because of the inability to use computers, society collapses.

    It'll all end in tears.

  34. John Tserkezis

    The low noise version:

    A hose leading from the keyboard, to the users' mouth, blowing when more pressure is needed.

    A suitable cushion of air within the keyboard helps guard the user against head injuries when their foreheads come slamming onto the desk after they pass out from all that blowing. Or sucking.

    Like Bart Simpson said, "I didn't know something could suck and blow at the same time...".

  35. alex cee

    Yes but

    does it have a bloody '#' key?

  36. Mark .

    Re: I am going to disagree with the reg on this one

    But if this is something useful, then you can kiss goodbye to ever seeing it now, unless you restrict yourself to buying expensive PCs from Apple. If it's anything like their magnetic power connector patent[*], they won't be licensing it.

    [*] Apple invented magnets, don't you see! Nevermind that even a 5 year old puts prior art on their parents' fridge...

  37. Zippy the Pinhead

    so if you clean it with a damp soapy cloth

    it'll blow bubbles?

    Actually I think I'd pay to see that... imagine the support call.

    There are bubbles coming out of my keyboard... click!


  38. Mike Moyle Silver badge

    So let me see if I've got this straight:

    If Apple applies for a patent on what could be an incremental improvement -- the magnetic power connector, say -- Mark 1 trolling is to scream "Prior art! My uncle's step-brother's cousin's third-grade teacher had a magnet YEARS ago!", while if they apply for a patent on something genuinely new and untried, Mark 2 trolling seems to require screaming that it'll never work because no one has made it work before.

    I'd be curious to know under what circumstances Apple could apply for a patent and NOT get one of these Pavlovoan responses. (Actually, I expect that the answer is "None" -- some people simply appear to have too much of their emotional self-worth tied up in the "Apple SUX" battlecry to let that Apple bell ring without reflexively drooling... Sad, really.)

    Flame on!

    1. Stephen Bungay


      You got it all crooked. The patent is for an idea, anybody can come up with an idea (like matter transmission or invisibility cloaks). The hard part is in actually building the invention. Like the patent held on the automobile by George Selden (1846-1922), the idea drawn on paper and described in legalese is not enough (as Henry Ford proved).

      IMHO if you patent it you had better darn well be actively trying to bring it into existence... else you're a stone in the shoe of progress, working to prevent civilization as a whole from moving forward.

      If you did actively try to sell and bring your product to market (like say time-delayed windscreen wipers (just to keep the car analogy going)) and one of those who turned you down then manufactures and profits from your hard work (you should have a working prototype and they should have signed something to keep them honest) then you have every right to take them to task for stealing your work.

      So in short Kudos to Apple for an actual invention, something that could be built. Now, make it work, as claimed, to improve the tactile feedback of slim devices. If you can't, then what is the point?

  39. John Savard Silver badge

    Prior Art?

    Since it's intended to improve the tactile experience, rather than being a fluidic sensor, I suppose that the Monotype keyboard won't count as prior art...

  40. Hemisphere

    Nicked from the Scottish Highlands

    Clearly, Jony Ive nicked prior art: as already historically established, it's the nexus between lips of Sir Wallace and the Bagpipes of said highland.

    And again, with mere sketches an English commoner, Sir Wallace takes a blow from His Royal Hammer...

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


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