When Apple first unveiled its 2016 MacBook Pro featuring an innovative new OLED Touch Bar with Touch ID functionality, there had been a great deal of speculation as to whether or not the company might ever release a similarly-equipped keyboard for use with other Macs. Well, last Thursday the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a bounty of six unique patents that were granted to Apple, all of which outline the underlying concept of the OLED Touch Bar, that suggest the company has been toying with the idea of a standalone Touch Bar and Touch ID-equipped keyboard accessory.
As noted by PatentlyApple, the general scope of the patents appears to describe a Magic Keyboard-type accessory, which could be used in conjunction with an iMac for example. While the broader scope is to explain the Touch Bar as a concept, the six individual patents are split evenly between two distinct topic groups: one describing Apple’s “Adaptive Input Row,” aka the OLED Touch Bar, and the second group covering ‘restrictive-access buttons’, aka the stationary Touch ID sensor located at the end of the bar.
The patent language is, as usual, not for the faint of heart to understand. However, the general theme — as embodied in the images below — is that Apple would create a bar-style unit capable of producing “an adaptable set of visual indicia that correspond to an input mode of the adaptive input row.”
In simpler terms, an adaptive touch-sensitive Bar — just like the OLED-equipped Touch Bar that has effectively replaced the traditional row of stationary F1-F12 keys at the top of Apple’s Touch Bar-configured MacBook Pros. This bar-style input device would then be complemented thanks in part to one or more touch-sensors that could be configured by the user to allow for various forms or combinations of touch-based input.
The text of the patents goes on to describe several different embodiments of the Touch Bar, including one that can essentially be integrated into a standalone wireless keyboard — such as a variant of Apple’s Magic Keyboard, for example. While a Touch Bar-equipped keyboard for use with an iMac would certainly appeal to some users, especially in the creative arena, there are unfortunately a number of issues that Apple would have to work the kinks out of in order for the device to actually be viable: issues like maximizing battery life, for example, or minimizing the amount of latency that would exist between the touch-based mechanisms over a wireless Bluetooth connection.
Of course, this is Apple we’re talking about, and if Apple is known for one thing, it’s taking something so seemingly impossible, and making it absolutely magical. Only time will tell what the future holds for the OLED Touch Bar, but clearly the company has plans far beyond the MacBook.