The New 12” MacBook Will Have an iPhone-like Interface

by James R. Stoup Jan 17, 2007

Imagine Apple releasing a 12” MacBook pro in June.

Now imagine opening it up only to find the keyboard is missing.

It has been replaced with a sheer black surface strangely similar to the iPhone.

You press the power button and the screen lights up, then your virtual keyboard lights up.

Oh, and there is no trackpad. The keyboard is the trackpad.

Does that sound too far fetched? Really? I don’t think so. Now, this might not happen in time for June, but tell me why it won’t happen eventually. Tell me why Apple can’t (or won’t) one day replace the conventional keyboard with a digital replacement?

Think of what you could do with a laptop with such an interface. You wouldn’t need a trackpad because the entire virtual keyboard’s surface could be converted into a trackpad. All of the gestures supported in the iPhone would translate directly to your laptop. You could zoom in, crop a picture, save it, move it around and then switch programs all by using simple finger motions. Of course, in addition to using that surface for input it could also double as a secondary display. Imagine hitting a key and seeing all your widgets zoom into view where your keyboard use to be. Tap one to bring it up to the big screen, manipulate it and then make it disappear. What about time machine? How would you like a virtual wheel you could spin that would take you along your file’s timeline? Or for gaming, you could create custom keys of any shape, size or color all named and mapped specifically for your current game.

And these ideas just scratch the surface of what else you could do. If Apple were to start shipping laptops with a Multi-Touch screen built in the very notion of how we use computers would have to change. What does a trackpad really do anyway? It translates the motion of your finger so you can move a cursor. It can detect taps and translate that into mouse clicks. And that is basically it. Now we are seeing a technology that will allow a whole new range of motion to be supported, which in turns means our old notions of what a user interface is are obsolete.

Remember the image on Apple’s homepage that cryptically explained that 2007 was just the beginning?

Welcome to the future.


  • I’m all for having a nice keyboard implanted underneath the skin on the back of my left hand. It would have to have good haptics, of course. And bluetooth, obviously.

    Benji had this to say on Jan 18, 2007 Posts: 927
  • You know actually the best option I can think of is an intelligently corrective motion-tracking system that watches the patterns made by your hands and fingers, working out what word you’re typing using terribly clever algorithms, allowing you to type on anyt surface in front of the sensors. Would take some developing. But I’m so sure it’s possible I might actually dedicate my life to making it happen.

    Benji had this to say on Jan 18, 2007 Posts: 927
  • I think Apple should just increase the size of the iphone idea to around 7”-10”, take out the phone and add webcam and a 60gb+ HD. Keep the vitual keyboard which intergrates into osx and inteligently comes up on screen when needed. Also it can send tv music etc to your living room display or hifi, no need for a seperate apple tv box. Run this product alongside the macbook line, for those who still need the functionality of a hard wired keyboard. But for those who just want easy acsess to media, internet, webacm, streming data ect, can have it without the bulk of a laptop. Imagine it on the sofa as a big remote control for you entertainment life, all in touchscreen.

    jonboz had this to say on Jan 18, 2007 Posts: 2
  • Those overlays look like a great idea, combining the best of both worlds.

    But will it ever be developed and released?

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jan 18, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Just to add to my above comment regarding streaming data to TV/HIFI, this could only happen if companies like sony ect would add a wifi/bluetooth channel at the manufacturing stage to there lcds to complement rgb/hdmi etc.

    jonboz had this to say on Jan 18, 2007 Posts: 2
  • I am looking to buy an apple laptop now, but currently own a Sony VAIO. Do you think it would be best to wait it out for a month or two before buying into the apple market and hoping that they upgrade the MACbook PRO with Leopard and a faster processor? Please let me know your comments and suggestions, would be greatly appreciated.

    I am not looking for a 12” as that is a bit small for my taste. Thanks for the help in advance.

    dynamoman had this to say on Jan 18, 2007 Posts: 2
  • iBook DS.

    MacNuggets had this to say on Jan 18, 2007 Posts: 17
  • Check out the link that our friend schininis (above) has brought to our attention.  This won’t replace a keyboard for keyboard-intensive applications, but it would make a great extra input device.  Essentially, one device with various attachments, connected by USB.  Maybe.  Looks expensive.  And I don’t think we are ready for a keyboard-free notebook just yet…

    sydneystephen had this to say on Jan 18, 2007 Posts: 124
  • Anyone who remembers the Sinclair ZX81 and its horrible painted on keyboard will know what a foolish idea this is.

    james666 had this to say on Jan 20, 2007 Posts: 1
  • interesting james666, that was my first thought. Then I realized the same thing could have been said about other early products, no one remembers early typewriters that didn’catch on even though they provided plenty of feedback and such…
    The truth is that a virtual keyboard is a bad idea for a laptop until it works..

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Jan 21, 2007 Posts: 354
  • Look a little closer at that patent application.  I design stuff so it’s easy for me to understand what’s going on . . . and I forget that it is a little hard to “get it” if you aren’t used to reading this kind of stuff.  What apple means by overlays are PHYSICAL 3-D REAL keys.  It will function EXACTLY like a normal keyboard.  But the way it will work is the interesting part.  There will be a big touch screen that will work like the iPhone.  Then when you want to use it as a REAL keyboard you will place a special plastic keyboard with moving keys on top of the touchpad.  The keyboard (or any other type of interface) is nothing more than a series of keys with special surfaces on the bottom that will act on the touchscreen as if your finger is touching it.  There is no electrical, USB, or any other kind of connection between the touch screen and the keyboard!!!  All you will have to do is tell the computer which overlay you are using, so it will know what the key touches mean.  The only problem might be if the large touch screen is too expensive and drives the cost of the device up . . . but I’m thinking it’s too cool an idea not to try!

    schininis had this to say on Jan 21, 2007 Posts: 8
  • Hmm… Not impossible and come to think of it, this was a future decided a long time ago on Star Trek TNG (they had no keyboards at all). Missing the tactile (I think I would, as a matter of fact, the only reason I bought a PowerBook instead of an iBook (I am still a lover of my PowerPC chip, there seems something so wrong about the ability to run WIndows on a Mac, but that is just me) is because I made the mistake of touching the keyboard in the Chicago Apple Store and I fell in love with way the keyboard felt, it is just dreamy. In comparison, the keyboard on the iBook felt cheap and plastic-iky.

    But to toss another monkey wrench in future plans, think what an OLED screen would be capable of. Put that over something slightly cushy and you will have your tactile experience as well as something multi-configurable and brighter.

    Wiz had this to say on Jan 21, 2007 Posts: 1
  • I think many people here are underestimating—to their peril—how much of typing involve the tactile sensation of the keys. Never mind the fact that an all touchscreen keyboard destroys everything taught to you about typing and forces you to have to look at the screen to key in input[...]

    I strongly disagree. I’ve been typing on a touch-screen based display, every day for the past five years: the till at the cafe I work at is built this way. I would say I could reasonably type just as fast on that as I could on the older, ‘button-based/tactile’ register we had previously. Watch any experienced server in a bar or restaurant on a ‘Squirrel’-type cash register and you’ll see what I mean.

    fallow had this to say on Jan 22, 2007 Posts: 2
  • Watch any experienced server in a bar or restaurant on a ‘Squirrel’-type cash register and you’ll see what I mean.

    I will point out that there are fewer buttons on those machines, and they are much larger, plus you’re not doing anywhere near as much typing on it as you would on an actual keyboard.

    As a former worker at Ruby Tuesday, even on a busy day there, I’d probably “type” less at my register screen than I do at one of my more frequently updated and verbose weblogs.

    Plus, the short bursts of cashiering means the fact you have to look at the screen hurts you less than it does with straight keyboarding. (When you type words, you really want to focus on how your sentence comes out, not where your fingers go.  As i type this, I’m looking far more at the text input box where these sentences appear than I am at the keyboard. On the iPhone, or the Stoup-proposed MacBook, I’d have to split my time almost evenly between the the input screen and the keyboard. On a cash register, you are free to focus on the touch screen interface. In this regard, moving the touch screen to the world of the notebook causes the interface to get in the way of your work.)

    SterlingNorth had this to say on Jan 22, 2007 Posts: 121
  • What if I still have some sort of mucosal residue on my fingers? 

    Look, not to be a boor or anything, but all of you people complaining about the *virtualness* of the virtual keyboard have no idea what you’re talking about:  all sorts of widgets, gewgaws, and instruments—but especially instruments:  fretless things, theremins, trombones, and the like—require utterly precise location of hands and fingers with almost no direct feedback at all.  No, the correct note is not immediate feedback, it’s *mediated* feedback. 

    People will learn to use virtual letter and word selectors just as well as any other input device.

    vaginaDentata had this to say on Jan 22, 2007 Posts: 2
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