Report: Apple planning an e-ink keyboard for its 2018 MacBooks

Posted Oct 19, 2016 by James Walker
Apple is working on a radical reimagining of the traditional keyboard that will see it replace ordinary key caps with tiny e-ink displays. The keyboard will be able to display characters in any language and switch to other modes, such as emoji input.
The new 2015 MacBook has only a single USB Type-C port for connectivity
The new 2015 MacBook has only a single USB Type-C port for connectivity
Apple is expected to unveil a new range of MacBooks later this month. It is saving the innovative keyboard tech for a 2018 launch though, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal today. The company is aiming to create a keyboard with "an unlimited number of special commands and emojis," making it easier to input special characters and infrequently used symbols.
Each key will include an e-ink display. This will allow the key layout to change at the touch of a button. Users will be able to switch between regular typing, emoji and specialised modes for different kinds of application. Gamers will be able to set up a macro layer of frequently used commands while graphic designers could create hot-keys for important functions.
The development will see Apple bring a staple of the mobile landscape, a wide variety of keyboard modes, to desktop PCs. It's common for people to send emoji on smartphones because of the emoji keyboard built into modern operating systems. It's much harder to access emoji on traditional PCs though.
Apple is said to be working with Australian startup company Sonder Design on the new keyboard. Foxconn-backed Sonder has already created an e-ink keyboard. Last week, the Guardian reported that Apple is currently in talks to acquire Sonder, suggesting the company is interested in its technology and wants exclusive access to its keyboards.
The evidence appears to imply Apple's e-ink keyboard will become a real MacBook feature. However, not everyone is satisfied that such a device is actually in the company's plans. As AppleInsider pointed out, The Wall Street Journal references The Guardian's claims that Apple CEO Tim Cook met with Sonder chief executive Francisco Serra-Martins in China last week. Sonder has denied the rumours.
The Wall Street Journal's other source is a since-deleted Reddit thread. The original poster demonstrated a prototype Sonder keyboard and claimed Apple is in talks to buy the company. AppleInsider has since investigated the device though, confirming it's a prototype of a Sonder device that has no connection to Apple. It will be launched under Sonder's name in the future.
With the report looking less than trustworthy, it's worth taking this rumour with a hefty pinch of salt for now. If you're interested in the idea of an e-ink keyboard, Sonder's upcoming cross-platform model will soon be available to purchase. According to the Wall Street Journal's anonymous sources, you'll also be able to find similar technology integrated into 2018 MacBooks as a standard feature across the range.