Apple’s new patent improves illumination of its butterfly keyboard

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Apple MacBook users have reported many issues with its butterfly keyboard.

There are also rumors about Apple planning to scrap the flawed butterfly keyboard.

The United States Patents & Trademark Office granted a patent to Apple on July 9th that relates to improved illumination structures for its butterfly keyboard. A backlight integrated membrane circuit is integrated into the keyboard.

Apple notes in its patent that, “in computing systems, a keyboard may be employed to receive input from a user. Many traditional keyboards may suffer from significant drawbacks that may affect the visibility of keyboard keys in a dimly-lit environment. In many cases, traditional keyboards include various mechanical and electrical components that may impede illumination of the keyboard.”

Apple notes in its patent summary that, “in a first aspect, the present disclosure includes a key for a keyboard. The key includes a keycap. The key further includes a feature plate positioned below the keycap.

The key further includes a membrane positioned below the feature plate. The membrane includes a transparent substrate optically coupled to a light emitting element. The membrane further includes electrical traces for a key switch disposed on the transparent substrate.

The key further includes a domed structure positioned on the membrane and configured to actuate the key switch when depressed.” 

In an embodiment of Apple’s invention, the transparent substrate defines a light guide configured to receive light from the light emitting element. The transparent substrate may be further configured to emit light received from the light emitting element toward an illuminable portion of the key cap.

In some cases, the domed structure may include a transparent material. The domed structure may be configured to receive light from the transparent substrate. Subsequently, the domed structure may be further configured to emit light received from the transparent substrate toward the illuminable portion of the key cap. This may cause the illuminable portion of the key cap to illuminate. 

Apple’s figure 1D shown below depicts a cross-sectional view of the keyboard assembly. As illustrated, figure 1D depicts the key cap #124, the domed structure #128, and a backlight integrated membrane #232.

The backlight integrated membrane #232 includes a stack-up of multiple sheets, films, or the like that cooperate to define a keyboard membrane circuit layer that completes an electrical path upon an actuation of the key cap #124, thereby generating an input signal for an electronic device.

One or more of the multiple sheets may be a transparent component that may aid in providing light to an illuminable portion of the key cap #124, such as illuminable surface #126.

As shown in Apple’s figure 5A, the dome integrated switch housing #170 may be coupled with a butterfly mechanism #144 or other analogous support structure of the keyboard assembly #108.

The dome integrated switch housing #170 may support the key cap #124 using, for example, the butterfly mechanism #144 or other support structure of the keyboard assembly #108.

For example, the butterfly mechanism #144 may be pivotally connected to both of the dome integrated switch housing #170 and the key cap #124.

The butterfly mechanism #144 may pivot during actuation of the key cap #124 such that the key cap #124 remains structurally supported above the backlight integrated membrane #232 during actuation of the key cap #124. In this regard, the dome integrated switch housing #170 may be a structural component of the keyboard assembly #108 that facilitates securing the key cap #124 above the backlight integrated membrane #232.

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