There is a constant race for ever thinner and lighter laptops, but as Apple found with their last generation of Macbook Pros messing around with the quality of the typing experience to achieve this can cause lots of ire.
This does not mean companies will stop trying, however, and Microsoft’s latest patent describes a better method of achieving this without losing the quality haptic experience.
In the patent ‘PUSH BUTTON WITH HAPTIC FEEDBACK’ Microsoft notes:
“Mechanical key design for keyboards often includes rubber or metal dome switches along with scissor mechanisms that offer a desirable feel and overall performance or achieve the key travel necessary to meet shrinking overall keyboard thickness specifications, but not both. Haptic feedback devices offer a user sensory feedback signifying a selection has been made without any physical travel of a keypad, but also may not offer the user a desirable feel and overall performance. The following describes in detail keys or push buttons that offer the user a desirable feel and performance, while meeting shrinking overall keyboard thickness specifications.”
Microsoft’s solution is to combine both a haptic element (normally a piezo-electric motor), the yellow element in the drawing above and a metal dome/spring (418, red) below a scissor element to achieve a low profile key.
The first part of the haptics of the key will be provided by the physical travel of the key and compression of the metal dome, while a further element will be provided electronically with the haptic motor.
“Implementations described and claimed herein provide a push button comprising a spring element with a user-perceptible physical travel upon depression of the push button, and a haptic element that simulates additional travel of the push button upon depression of the push button.”
Microsoft is confident their solution is good enough to fool users that the key has much deeper travel that is really the case.
Their solution is suitable for both the detachable Surface keyboard or integrated designs such as found in the Surface Laptop and may, of course, show up in future designs.
The full patent can be seen here.