Apple has a new patent application that has turned up at the USPTO that outlines a new system of haptic feedback that aims to make on-screen keyboards feel more like the real thing. The haptic tech described in the patent is called "Static Pattern Electrostatic Haptic Electrodes," and the goal is to to provide more tactile feedback like a computer keyboard.
The patent relates to haptics that use multiple static pattern electrostatic haptic electrodes that are driven by different voltages, which allows a range of different haptic outputs. The static pattern electrostatic haptic electrode could include conductive material and voids inside the conductive material that allows the material to be the densest at its edges and decrease towards the center of the virtual key.
That could give the feel of a cupped keyboard key. The haptic tech could simulate a texture gradient or other texture change effect as the user moves a finger over the edge of the virtual key towards the center. Apple says that when the static pattern electrostatic haptic electrodes are used with a key on a virtual keyboard, perceived textured or perceived shape differences related to different friction could be designed. That allows for user interactions that are similar to a traditional keyboard with a mechanical input structure.
Apple says the tech would allow users to find virtual keys and orient themselves using the same small finger and hand motions used when typing on traditional keyboards (a la touch typing). The patent application was published recently, but was filed in Q1 2019 and was being worked on as far back as Q1 2018. There is no guarantee this patent will ever result in tech used in Apple devices, but it is interesting development nonetheless.
Apple recently announced that the iPhone 11 would flash a warning screen if a non-OEM display was used in a replacement.