Apple, please make this Touchscreen Keyboard for the MacBook Pro

The Touch Bar is great on the MacBook Pro. What would really make sense? A Touchscreen Keyboard with physical keys that rise out of the enclosure.

apple macbook pro touch bar

A guest points to a new MacBook Pro during an Apple media event in Cupertino, Calif., on Oct. 27, 2016. 

Credit: REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

I don’t think this is an impossible request.

It was a big letdown for me when Apple revealed the Touch Bar in the new MacBook Pro. l like how it works, and I plan to test it thoroughly with consumer and pro apps. It’s a step forward for laptops, especially since the form factor has not really changed since...forever. My favorite feature is how quickly you can access emojis.

Yet, I wanted more. My idea is to have a keyboard where each key can recess into the enclosure at the touch of a button. It would function exactly like the current MacBook keyboard -- same size and shape keys -- but, when recessed, each key would become part of a touchscreen display (and still function as a key) almost like an iPad.

I realize this might be an engineering challenge. How do you get multiple keys to feel and work like a normal plastic key on a keyboard, and yet emit an LED to become part of an even, usable touchscreen display? And, in some ways, you might wonder why you would need this second display (I’ll get to that in a minute). What I’m envisioning, though, could be the ultimate laptop because it would work for fast typing and feel normal and comfortable, yet work the same as the Touch Bar.

In some ways, this would be a miracle of engineering, but then again, we all thought a touchscreen phone was a miracle back when the original Android and iPhone debuted. What we think of as commonplace today was once considered impossible.

I can imagine many use cases for this laptop. Maybe it has a detachable screen, although that is not an Apple norm. It has to look, act, and feel like a normal MacBook Pro in every way. You might even show this future model to someone and they would not notice that the keys can recess. Once they do, the secondary display becomes a work surface for pen (er, Pencil) input, jotting down notes a.l.a. the new Lenovo Yoga Book. It would also have all of the features of the Touch Bar including quick access buttons, maybe an area to store favorite apps, and even a section for seeing a live feed from a conference room or a Skype call.

The keys would be configurable, even when they rise from the enclosure. Let’s say you only want the basic word processing keys -- the rest of the display would become more like the Touch Bar. Or, if you’re old school like me, maybe you want the physical keys to work exactly like the older MacBook Pro with functions keys that are still available in the same location, controls for music, and the normal Command and Control buttons.

Can you type on a key that also shows part of a display? That’s maybe where Gorilla Glass comes in. The keys would have to feel the same as plastic, possibly with some sort of texture coating. (Actual engineers, feel free to correct all of my ideas, although remember that I’m talking about something that might not seem possible with current technology.) We already see this functionality with some mechanical keyboards that use light in the same way. And, that Yoga Book -- which I’ve tested extensively -- has a usable touch keyboard, even if I probably won’t rely on it for long-form writing -- it works best for taking notes in a meeting and typing up emails.

I’m curious if you think this touchscreen keyboard could work, so post in comments if you have additional insights, a rebuttal, or know about products that already exist that do this. Apple, can you make this a reality?

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