What it is: Apple recently filed a patent for a keyless keyboard.
Apple files patents all the time for products that never make it to market. However, their latest patent covers a keyless keyboard. In other words, a virtual keyboard for laptops and tablets. The idea of a virtual keyboard is nothing new. The iPhone effectively killed physical keyboards by using a virtual keyboard that could change based on the use. Dial a phone number and the virtual keyboard displays a traditional numeric keypad. Type a message and a standard typewriter keyboard appears. When you’re done using the keyboard, it disappears so you can use the screen to see something else.
Virtual keyboards offer versatility that physical keyboards can never offer. That’s why virtual keyboards are certain to appear in laptops eventually. Apple has already replaced the row of function key with the Touch Bar in certain MacBook Pro laptop models because function keys are relatively useless today, yet still exist much like the Num Lock key on PC keyboards. Why do Num Lock keys still exist on PC keyboards even though few people ever turn their numeric keypad into a cursor keypad when their keyboard already offers a separate cursor keypad?
What’s stopping virtual keyboards is the lack of haptic feedback, yet Apple has already developed haptic feedback for the Magic Trackpad that creates the illusion of moving when it doesn’t move at all. This haptic feedback convinces your fingers that you pressed or clicked when the trackpad surface never physically moved at all. Such haptic feedback is what virtual keyboards need for laptops so people can feel keys under their fingertips instead of feeling like they’re typing on a glass sheet.
When Apple perfects haptic feedback for larger virtual keyboards, then you’ll see true revolutionary change in laptops. Instead of displaying archaic physical keyboards, tomorrow’s laptops can display dual screens where you can use one screen to type on or both screens to display information. Think of an iPhone but bigger and that’s the future of the laptop.
What will people do with dual screen laptops? That’s the key to the future. For a presentation, you could display slides on one screen and controls on the other along with notes. Think of today’s dual monitor set ups with desktop computers and that’s essentially what you’ll have in dual-screen laptops.
Physical keyboards are antiques. They’ll be around but they won’t be common any more than physical keyboards are common on smartphones. The virtual keyboard is coming soon. It’s just a matter of when.