How Apple’s next MacBook Pro could be the most flexible laptop ever

Chris Burns - Oct 13, 2016
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How Apple’s next MacBook Pro could be the most flexible laptop ever

Apple has been tipped to be speaking with Foxconn startup Sonder, a company which creates some of the strangest keyboards in the world. The keyboards Sonder makes don’t look significantly different from Apple’s current MacBook Pro and iMac offerings – just so long as their keys keep their standard characters. Sonder’s big differentiator in keyboards is their ability to switch keys at a moment’s notice using E-Ink technology.

Back in 2008 a keyboard was introduced to the world as Optimus Maximus (as seen below), the first of its kind. This keyboard was designed by Art.Lebedev and featured keys with their own tiny displays and individually programmed actions. Industrial designer Timur Burbaev and engineers Maksim Pavlukhin and Grigory Annenkov made a keyboard that may have been 8 years before its time – or at least before its preparedness for mass adoption.

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Sonder makes a couple of products right now, one of which is a standalone keyboard. This Sonder keyboard costs $199 and uses E Ink to alter the visual content behind each of most of its keys. There’s also a notebook implementation of this technology from Sonder being prepared for release right now.

“We meticulously designed and engineered the Sonder keyboard, from the inside out,” said Sonder. “The final product is an advanced, elegant keyboard with transparent keys and a bespoke display that’s as much a work of art as it is state of the art.” Sonder has also suggested that theirs is the world’s first E Ink keyboard.

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Sonder’s laptop webpage says it’ll be delivering the “future at your fingertips.” Clearly they mean they’re the future of keyboards – but also your touch interaction. They also suggest that, “Partnering with experienced manufacturers, Sonder will redefine laptop keyboard design and user experience.”

UPDATE: As of 12-noon Central Time (possibly before), Sonder’s website has gone down. It is possible that this down time is happening due to increased traffic. On the other hand, it could also be because Apple asked Sonder to take down their webpage temporarily – we do not have confirmation either way, yet.

Above and below are videos posted by Sonder to their YouTube channel. The video above was posted a year ago, while the video below was posted yesterday. These were posted to the official Sonder YouTube channel, linked via their official website.

If Apple is indeed creating a MacBook or MacBook Pro with a keyboard like Sonder has mocked up for the public to see (at least until this afternoon), we can see why. Above and below are a number of images rendered by Sonder of an unnamed notebook with Sonder’s keyboard but without a brand. We can safely assume these were meant to resemble a MacBook Pro.

Apple could at last be aiming some of its notebook resources at versatile gaming applications. While it’s been fairly standard practice for some years now that more casual games are developed for both Windows devices and Apple’s desktops, Apple could be expanding. Gaming is the industry in which PC sales are growing quickest – Apple may want a piece of that pie.

Keyboards made by Razer have backlighting that’s able to change color based on various stimuli. SteelSeries keyboards have reprogrammable keys and have their own rainbow color backlighting. More keyboards have odd keys, lights, and added functionality than ever before.

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If Apple does implement Sonder technology into their MacBook of the future, users will have some adjusting to do. First, it’s possible that Apple will allow a seasoned MacBook user to work with this new MacBook without needing to learn how to utilize the new keyboard display technology. E Ink allows this without needing the keys to be lit up with any significant battery drain as a result.

If Apple does use E Ink, as Sonder does, users won’t actually need to physically SEE the keyboard to use it. They wouldn’t need to see this hypothetical MacBook’s keyboard to use its basic functionality, that is to say. There’ll still be hardware indicators of where the keys are – F and J, we “see” you.

It’s also possible that Apple will want users to make full use of this technology when the new MacBook arrives. They might push the technology the same way they’ve worked with app developers to utilize 3D Touch on the iPhone. Developers could be taking advantage of this new bit of hardware for a wide variety of apps – music to games to programming.

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If Apple does use Sonder technology to enhance their MacBook experience, it may end up being the second in a two-step modification to their MacBook line. The first has been tipped to be an LED touchscreen at the top of the keyboard – which, at first, would remain relatively standard. This touchscreen would be able to change depending on the application it loads, controlling functionality of the notebook therein.

If Apple implements either a touchscreen above the keyboard or a whole new keyboard with hyper-interactive keys and functionality, we’re in for a change. A change of epic proportions, along the lines of the change Steve Jobs addressed in the video above as he explained the company’s first touchscreen interface. We’re in for a change not just for the MacBook, but of our expectations of what a keyboard on a notebook computer can do.

Rumors suggest that October 27th could be the date of the Apple event where a new MacBook Pro (or just MacBook) is set to be revealed. As 9to5Mac suggests, that’s just two days after what very well may be a slightly “disappointing” iPhone sales quarterly earnings call. Stick around SlashGear’s Apple Twitter portal for more as we continue to investigate.


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