As tablets become better productivity partners instead of mere entertainment devices, Apple wants to help shoppers transition away from their PCs. A patent published by the US Patents and Trademarks office shows Apple may be working on a Surface-like keyboard cover for the next iPad. And based on the notes accompanying the diagrams, it appears a touchpad may be laid on top of the touch keys so you can use it like a mouse.
According to the description in the patent, the cover "may be a Multi-Touch keyboard that is adapted to receive both keyboard input and touch input." To do this, the keyboard may include a "transparent or semitransparent touch sensitive panel incorporated with a plurality of keys arranged in a keyboard configuration." This means the iPad's cover could offer a more generously-spaced layout while still giving you the ability to use a touchpad.
Other details from the patent show that certain configurations of the case may allow the ability to trigger a sleep mode for the keyboard, and the cover may latch onto the tablet with electromagnets.
This new cover may satisfy our desire for Apple to make its own keyboard dock that's better than what its partners (like Logitech and Zagg) can provide. Those accessories work well, but they don't feel as well integrated with the tablet as what the Surface provides.
Having a transparent touchpad laid on top of a keyboard may seem problematic and confusing, but we appreciate the company's space-saving efforts. The patent was filed on Sept 21, 2012, and with it being published today, we could very well expect to see the cover accompany the launch of the next iPad.