By Chand Bellur
May 21, 2020 at 5:29 p.m. PT
- Apple added a small, embedded touchscreen to select MacBook Pro keyboards in late 2016.
- The Touch Bar has proven to be a useful, contextually-aware control, now included in all MacBook Pro models.
- Patents indicate that Apple may add the Touch Bar to external iPad and perhaps even desktop Macintosh keyboards.
Apple Perfects Keyboard with Embedded Touch Screen
Apple doesn’t invent everything they manufacture. The company is known to borrow ideas from others, perfecting them in the process. The iPhone wasn’t the first touchscreen phone, but it was the first true smartphone. It may have borrowed concepts from the LG Prada; however, anyone who claims the iPhone is a Prada ripoff has lost touch with reality.
Similarly, Apple was not the first notebook computer manufacturer to offer a keyboard-embedded touch screen. HP offered a computer with a touch strip; however, its controls were not dynamic. It’s almost puzzling that they couldn’t realize the true advantage of a small touchscreen or strip embedded in a notebook computer keyboard. Instead, Apple did the hard work to make something useful, rather than conjure up another trivial parlor trick.
The glaring advantage of an embedded touch screen is dynamic controls. Instead of having to memorize what each function key does within an app, the Touch Bar shows you. It can even create innovative controls that go beyond keyboard functionality. For example, a DJ app can instantiate a cross-fader control in the Touch Bar. A video game can use the same area to display more specific controls.
Apple May Add Touch Bar to External Keyboards
Recent patent filings indicate that Apple may add its iconic Touch Bar to external keyboards. Although most rumors suggest the iPad would experience this technology first, it’s likely that desktop Macs may also feature a Touch Bar. Prioritizing desktop Macs seems more likely, as many macOS apps already support the technology. Given that no Mac has a touch screen, a Touch Bar seems to make more sense.
The actual patent filing shows an external iPad keyboard with a touch strip on the left and right sides. While some may see this as an indication of the future product, Apple doesn’t wear its product roadmap on its sleeve. If anything, they’re known for misdirecting competitors.
As with all patent-based rumors, we don’t know if the inferred technology will see the light of day. It could be an attempt to block third-party accessory makers from embedding a touch screen on a keyboard designed for a touch screen device.
It’s far more likely Apple will use this technology for desktop Mac keyboards. The iPad already has a touch screen, making a Touch Bar superfluous. That said, it may be convenient to have some touch-based features quickly accessible on the keyboard. Perhaps their technological vision is quite functional and usable. We’ll never know until the next generations of Apple keyboards emerge.