This observation was supported by the release of Apple's newest and thinnest laptop, the MacBook, which has a keyboard with a mechanism in which its keys have nearly no depth, meaning that the device can be thinner than ever.
The invention, a "configurable, force-sensitive input structure for an electronic device," describes a way to interact with an electronic device. The patent's pictures show a laptop like a MacBook.
Essentially, Apple's experimenting with "zero-travel" inputs. A touchscreen, for instance, is a zero-travel input: When you press on it, there's no physical mechanism that moves.
But the invention published on 7 April is more like the "Force Touch" trackpads that Apple has included on recent MacBooks that rely on haptic technology. Instead of clicking, a layer senses the force that the user's fingers impart to the surface and when pressed down, instead of the trackpad actually moving, a small motor provides a sensation as if you're actually clicking.
So instead of keys, a future MacBook could have a flat surface that users can type on.
This patent takes that idea to the next level, and seems to indicate that this kind of haptic technology can be configured for a laptop keyboard, a number pad, or a track pad, all with the same general input structure. Furthermore, the positioning of these haptic keypads can be configurable — so the laptop might have a number pad for Excel sessions, and switch to a game pad for playing games.
Apple even says that "micro-perforations" in the casing may be able to light up to give the user the guidelines of a keyboard, for instance, without the battery drain of a full touchscreen.
Of course, Apple patents stuff all the time, and there's no guarantee that a patent will eventually become a product or a feature.
But given Apple's investment in zero-travel trackpads, there's certainly a possibility that it will consider using that technology for keyboards and other input devices, and Apple has filed for similar "force touch" keyboards in the past.