Earlier this month, a pretty standard-looking Apple patent application was published describing how a keyboard paired with a touchscreen device might make “performing tasks such as viewing, creating, editing, and sharing content” easier. The patent is written in typically baroque language, but is essentially about keyboard shortcuts. However, tucked away in the images section (and first spotted by Patently Apple) is a simple but intriguing idea: what if you replaced Caps Lock with an emoji key?
This idea isn’t mentioned in the application itself, but appears in a number of supporting illustrations. These appear to show an Apple Smart Keyboard (the only keyboard Apple makes for touchscreen devices), but with a new key layout. These changes include an “emoji” key, but also a “share” button, which brings up a menu for sharing content:
And a new “search” key top right:
In the application itself, Apple describes how these (and other) keys would be context-dependent. So, hitting the search key in a Word document would let you look for specific terms in that document, while pressing it in an email app would let you search your email. Or, you can hit the key twice to bring up Siri (as seen above), and then carry out a search using voice commands.
Some of this functionality already exists for the Smart Keyboard (you can access the emoji keyboard by hitting the globe key in the bottom left for example), but it makes sense for Apple to make these shortcuts even more accessible. If they want the iPad Pro to be as productive as possible they need to compensate for the lack of other inputs somehow. Plus, in the case of the emoji key, do you really need Caps Lock when you’ve got shift?
Apple obviously thinks that people want this sort functionality, or, at the very least, that it’s a good visual hook when advertising new products. Emoji were a key use case for the Touch Bar in the new MacBook Pro, and in our review of the laptop, we found people drawn toward this feature, as opposed to using the Touch Bar to be a terrible DJ.
Apple is rumored to be announcing three new iPads this spring, so there’s a chance the Smart Keyboard could be getting an update, too. Will that include a new emoji key? Well, maybe, but you can’t put your trust in patent applications. If you take a closer look at the illustrations above, you’ll notice the keyboards don’t even have an “e” key.