A patent discovered in the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) by Apple details the design and functionality of glass keycaps for Mac. The file patent application acknowledges the difficulties faced with the Butterfly keyboard and explains how transparent glass can be used for better durability in MacBook Keyboards. The application also talks about the challenges of constructing a design that is both durable and thin.
The abstract of the product reads:
“A pleasing exterior appearance of an electronic device is often difficult to pair with the market demand for advanced functionality, improved durability, key definition, and reduced thickness and weight. Some aesthetically pleasing materials may not be sufficiently durable to include in a device housing or other components, and other aesthetically pleasing materials can interfere with the advanced functionality of the electronic device. Some aesthetic materials are brittle, rigid, or difficult to manufacture into keycaps with desired surface features”.
Description of Glass Keycaps
The issue of printed keycaps wearing off overtime is a recurring problem for Apple users. Thus, the possible solution for that is glass keycaps. The patent describes the use of glass polymer for transparent keycaps which will allow light and glyphs to be seen through them. The keycaps will be curved inwards to reduce the stress of being hit upon.
As per the application, the glass keycaps will be more resistant to withering because the symbols which are normally printed upon them can now be placed below. There will also be a light-blocking layer used above the blacklight to effectively illuminate the keyboard symbols.
These keyboards can benefit from being thin, light, and durable. Glasses, transparent ceramics (e.g., sapphire), transparent polymers, and similar materials can be desirable to use on a surface of keycaps to achieve these objectives. When used as typing surfaces or other touch interfaces, these materials can be durable and difficult to blemish or scratch, even when subjected to millions of use cycles.
They can be made thin while still having high rigidity and stiffness, so keycaps with these materials can be made thin while still being resistant to bending and flexing when pressed. Their transparency or translucency can also be advantageous in keyboards with keys that are backlit or side-lit since they can transfer, reflect, or distribute light. Their surfaces can be smoothed and polished and can resist scratching or other blemishes.
Apple’s switch from Butterfly keyboards to Magic keyboards has received a lot of praise from users and now the patent describes that Apple can fill the little room for durability that is left out in previous keyboards. The patent was filed in May 2019 but we wouldn’t expect to see glass keycaps before 2021.