A new patent filing from Apple was made public today which details the possibility of using an e-ink display instead of an OLED touch panel for the Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pros. The patent application was first filed by Apple in 2013, three years before the company first released a MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar.
Titled “Input/Output device with a dynamically adjustable appearance and function,” the patent describes a “computing device” with a keyboard, processor, mouse/trackpad, and a modifiable display comprising of multiple e-ink panels that can change their appearance or input scheme. The patent also envisions the technology being applied to the bezels of an iPad.
For example, whereas traditional keyboards and mouse peripherals have a set number of input modes, respectively QWERTY keys and two or more buttons, a dynamically configurable version might feature many multiples of those same components. In particular, an e-ink capsule (enclosure, fluid and pigment) can be split or joined together to form different input areas, each labeled according to a host application.
Another example cites a Touch Bar as seen on the new MacBook Pro that is capable of displaying symbols, glyphs, and other content dynamically. In the patent, Apple also describes using the dynamic display as a secondary display to show some device relation information like Wi-Fi status and GPS coordinates.
Certain embodiments of the patent also suggest that the panel could dynamically change its appearance to look similar to the chassis of the laptop which while clever, is unlikely to happen with the currently available technology.
It was previously reported that Apple was planning on using e-ink keyboards on the 2018 MacBooks. The keyboard would change keys depending on the language selected and will also show special buttons for commonly used shortcuts. This patent from Apple only further gives us a hint at that upcoming technology, though a delay in its implementation is possible due to the high cost of e-ink panels.
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