On-screen keyboards have become a fact of life but that doesn’t make them enjoyable to use. That’s especially true for tablets that have large screens that would have been more comfortable to use with larger and more spacious keys. Typing on flat glass with nothing but subtle vibrations of the entire screen will always feel unnatural for some people. Apple’s newest patent may offer screen typists a reprieve, that is if it ever becomes and actual implementation.
Even those used to typing on a smartphone screen will still find typing on a large iPad screen a bit odd. It looks like a QWERTY keyboard and may even sound like a QWERTY keyboard but it’s definitely no QWERTY keyboard. For years, usability and HCI experts have been lecturing about the lack of ergonomics of touch screen keyboards because of the lack of haptic feedback.
The problem with keyboard haptic feedback on screens is the unyielding nature of glass. Localizing the vibration under the finger to making it feel like you’re actually pressing on a physical button is almost impossible because there is only one vibration engine and it affects the whole surface of the screen. And that is exactly what Apple’s patent is supposed to address.
The patent application, just published by the USPTO, talks about using electrostatic haptic motors to solve that. Rather than try and localize vibrations, it is instead using electricity to “fake” the resistance offered by mechanical keyboards. As a company that has been playing with haptic feedback on screens, Apple has more chances than any other to make this patent real.
Of course, it’s still a patent and an application at that. Even if Apple gets awarded the patent, it could be a while before it gets implemented, if at all. Given Apple’s vision for iPads with keyboard accessories, it might not yet be high on Apple’s priority but it could prove beneficial for a dual screen, foldable device.