Taking the torch from Xerox Parc, Apple has lead the field in taking the general computer user beyond the traditional input devices. Graphic User Interface, the mouse, the touchpad, and most recently multi-touch. The direction is a bias against the mechanical for human/computer interaction. Apple decided against a mechanical keyboard for the iPhone, and it looks like they’re continuing in that direction with this patent filing. Unwired View makes the filing a little more understandable.
The keyboard becomes a software environment, and that opens a world of possibilities. We’re very early in this game, and currently the mechanical keyboard is much more usable than the various virtual keyboards out there. We prefer the tactile feedback, but that’s the challenge Apple appears to be tackling. How do you put a beautiful simulation of the act of typing on the glass?
The current form of human / computer interaction via KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) has been an unnatural configuration from the start. It’s always been about the needs of the machine and the network. It’s only through the expansion of interaction modes that the current configuration of computing can be de-centered and distributed into a ubiquitous set of new devices. The iPhone is a tentative first step on that journey.