Following Apple’s acquisition of PrimeSense back in November 2013, a new patent indicates it could be working on a new type of virtual keyboard that would allow users to type in mid-air using a Kinect-like 3D camera system.
Entitled “Virtual Keyboard for a Non-Tactile Three Dimensional User Interface,” the patent describes a system in which a 3D capturing device mounted on the top of a user’s monitor could detect hand movements and gestures for typing and other controls.
The sensors would scan an “interactive area” located in front of the screen, Apple explains, then translate the hand movements it detects to determine which keys the user is hitting. The technology could also be used to control other objects, such as 3D models or drawing tools.
If you use an Xbox with a Kinect, you’ll already be familiar with this concept. In fact, PrimeSense is the company that provided the technology for Microsoft’s first-generation Kinect sensor — before it was snapped up by Apple.
But to enable typing and other interactions that need to be incredibly precise, Apple would need a much more advanced sensor that could recognize subtle movements, like those made by your fingertips as you tap away at a keyboard.
Apple explains that in order to make the system more accurate, it would employ a “language model” similar to its auto-correct and QuickType features in iOS 8 that would provide a “best guess of the user’s intended input.”
Apple has always dismissed the idea of building a Mac with a touchscreen because it doesn’t believe vertical touchscreens are comfortable to use for long periods, but with PrimeSense technology, it could bring a new kind of touch and gesture input to OS X.
The technology could also be used to control a future Apple TV or television set, not only negating the need for a remote, but also providing a Kinect-like experience inside apps and games. We’re yet to see an App Store for Apple TV, of course, but recent reports have claimed that will finally change later this fall.
Having paid between $345 million and $360 million for PrimeSense, Apple clearly has big plans for the company’s technology, but more than a year on, we’re yet to see how the Cupertino company will use it.