Future iPad cloth smart keyboards could be ‘backlit’

Apple is researching ways to mimic the backlighting on a cloth smart keyboard for iPad Pro, by using light-emitting regions printed on the keys.

If there is a difference between Apple iPad Cloth Smart Keyboards, and their magic keyboards, it is the price. But beyond that, the cheapest fabric has always lacked backlight, and it seemed like it should always have it.

Any move to put real backlighting behind the keys would mean poking holes in the fabric. While it’s certainly possible, it would eliminate the fabric’s benefit of being easier to clean and impervious to dust getting between the keys.

Now, with the recently granted patent, “Fabric Articles with Thermally Printed Light-Emitting Regions,” Apple wants it both ways.

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“Weaving and other techniques for weaving strands of material can be used to form fabrics,” explains the patent. “You can use, for example, a layer of cloth to cover the keys of a keyboard.”

Apple wants to keep that fabric but also allow backlighting, which is traditionally made with “light-emitting diodes are used to provide backlighting for the keys “. In addition to lighting, Apple wants this keyboard to look good.

“It can be challenging to create lighting for fabric items,” the patent continues. “If you’re not careful, fabric items won’t have visually appealing lighting, will be too complex to manufacture, or won’t have the desired lighting patterns.”

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The proposal is that the body of the cloth keyboard remains as it is, but the legend of each key is treated differently. Instead of passive markings, the new keys could be printed with a label that is illuminated.

“Each key on a keyboard can have an illuminated key label,” continues Apple. “You can process parts of the fabric by pressing heated protrusions in a textured mold onto polymer optical fibers into the fabric.”

Each key can have an illuminated key label

“The bumps form corresponding light scattering voids in the cladding portions of the optical fibers,” he says. “By modeling the protrusions in the mold, corresponding thermally printed light-emitting regions can be formed into the fabric.”

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Apple’s patent details fabric materials such as those that have “polymer strands with higher melting temperatures than optical fibers.” That would allow “selective thermal printing operations on the optical fibers without damaging the other strands of the fabric.”

This patent is credited to four inventors, including Daniel A. Podhajny. His previous related work includes a patent granted on the use of touch-sensitive fabric to make a MacBook Pro trackpad.

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