Let’s be clear, when I say the MacBook has an annoying problem I’m not talking about the paltry number of Thunderbolt ports, the lack of an SD card slot, or the fact that they’re priced way too high for such pitiful processors. The most annoying problem with the MacBook and the MacBook Pro is that the keyboard on each can be brought to its knees by a god dang crumb. But now, a patent found by The Sun suggests a fix could be on the way for future versions of Apple’s laptops.
Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)
Currently, if you have a penchant for croissants or toast, a single speck of detritus from your meal can spell the end of a typing session. The problem is that the keyboards on the MacBook and MacBook Pro are super shallow. When you press a key it only moves (or “travels”) less than a millimetre. A normal keyboard on a laptop has a travel distance of 1.5 to 2mm, while the travel on a fancy mechanical keyboard is often 3mm or more. Travel is one of the many ways you judge whether a keyboard feels nice to type on, and Apple’s shallow travel has earned ire since it was introduced with the MacBook in 2015.
A membrane covers the key switches to protect from debris. Image: Apple
It’s also given it much less room for error. So when a crumb gets under the key, it can’t fully depress properly. Instead, it stops moving altogether and you have to take a minute to knock the crumb (or sand or one fleck of dirt) out or reach for the canned air.
Apple’s patent suggests three primary ideas. One is to apply a membrane between the mechanism that moves the key (also known as a switch) and the keycap. That’s a funny one to attempt to patent as a number of keyboard makers already do something similar, including Apple. Topre and Razer both make “hybrid” switches that incorporate a membrane and a mechanical component, too. This latest Apple hybrid would simply add another membrane to specifically protect the mechanical elements.
These key switches would use air to clear debris. Image: Apple
The second idea Apple has is using a perforated membrane that would, it appears, emit gas or air with each keypress, effectively clearing the key of debris.
The third idea is to create, essentially, an awning around the keycap that funnels debris away from the key switch.
All three ideas, implemented in a wide variety of ways, can be found in the patent here. The patent was filed back on 8 September 2016, and only became public yesterday. When, or if, it arrives in future Apple laptops remains to be seen.