Apple has teamed up with an Australian start-up to turn the standard Qwerty keyboard into a blank slate.
The new keyboards will be a standard feature on MacBook laptops, and will be able to display any alphabet, along with an unlimited number of special commands and emojis, people familiar with the plans said. Apple is aiming for a 2018 launch, these people said.
The keyboard technology has been developed by Sonder Design Pty Ltd., an Australian start-up backed by Foxconn Technology Group.
The keyboards will use so-called E Ink displays much like those seen on Amazon’s Kindle devices.
Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, discussed the MacBook plans with the heads of Foxconn and Sonder on Oct. 11 in China, the people said.
It was reported last week that Apple was in talks to acquire Sonder.
Foxconn and Sonder said they do not comment on potential customers or dealings with other companies. Apple declined to comment.
A few customizable keyboards have reached the market over the years, including the “Optimus Popularis” keyboard by Art. Lebedev Studio, a Russian design firm.
But that unit sold for more than $1,000, limiting its mass-market appeal.
Although the Apple keyboard would be a standard feature, it is likely to hold added appeal to those who frequently type in more than one language, including people in international business and students.
People who use software with specialised commands, such as graphic designers and gamers, are also expected to welcome the versatility of the device.
For everyday users, the new keyboard would also make it easy for people to spice up their communications with emojis and other symbolic substitutes for words, which have gained widespread popularity through the spread of smartphones and social networking apps.
For Cupertino, California-based Apple, an eye-catching feature such as a customizable keyboard could help retain interest in a maturing product line.
Apple’s main manufacturing partner, Foxconn, also hopes the project can help it move up the value chain, supplying more key components in addition to assembling devices.
Sonder is part of Foxconn’s incubator program and the Taiwanese manufacturer plans to invest in Sonder later this year, the people said.
Production of advanced components nets higher margins than device assembly. Foxconn has made other efforts to shift its business mix toward components, including its recent acquisition of Japan’s Sharp Corporation.
Sonder’s stand-alone smart keyboards will be launched later this year. The US preorder price is $US199 ($A258).
Clarification: The Australian company involved Sonder says any talk of deals being done is premature. “Sonder is in discussion with a range of parties,” a spokesman said. The company also has denied a report in another media outlet that it had met with Apple chief executive Tim Cook. “It never happened, however we would welcome the opportunity,” the spokesman said. The Wall Street Journal stands by its report.
Online Source: The Australian.