Apple reportedly plans to put dynamic E Ink keyboards into MacBook laptops by 2018. According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, the iPhone-maker is working with Australian startup Sonder, which is launching its own Bluetooth E-Ink keyboard later this year. The keyboards can be used to display not only the standard QWERTY layout, but also different alphabets and context-sensitive buttons for software like Photoshop.
However, the credibility of these rumors is not clear. The WSJ cites anonymous sources “familiar with the plans,” and references a recent article in The Guardian claiming that Apple is currently in talks to buy Sonder. The UK paper itself confirmed that Apple CEO Tim Cook met with Sonder’s chief executive Francisco Serra-Martins in China last week, with the meeting, but the original source for the acquisition rumor appears to be a Reddit post.
The Reddit post is now deleted, but the poster claimed to have used a prototype Apple E Ink keyboard developed using Sonder’s technology. The keyboard was said to have back-lighting and an E Ink display on each key, and was seen at a tech incubator event organized by Foxconn — an Apple manufacturing partner and, according to the WSJ, a soon-to-be investor in Sonder.
As reported by The Guardian, the poster wrote of the keyboard: “It’s really a solid indication of the future of input technology. Apple has a reputation of making big leaps which are seen to be unpopular but then become the new standard. Dynamic keyboards are the standard for phones, they will be for laptops and desktops too.”
A tipster also contacted The Verge about this story, claiming to be a friend of the Reddit poster who had used the keyboard. The Verge has reached out to the poster to confirm her story, but has yet to hear back.
All of this is interesting evidence, but there’s certainly no smoking gun to indicate Apple’s intentions — either with regards to integrating Sonder’s technology into the MacBook, or to acquiring the startup. The Guardian‘s report of Cook’s meeting with the Sonder CEO is light on details, and by itself a meeting does not indicate much. MacRumors also points out that Sonder’s willingness to confirm the meeting to The Guardian is also suspicious, as such talks are usually covered by a non-disclosure agreement that stops those involved discussing them in any capacity.
Similarly, the only report we have of the Apple prototype keyboard that was supposedly on display at Foxconn’s incubator event is from the Reddit poster, who did not provide either images or video of the device. It’s worth noting that Sonder certainly benefit from these rumors, as they draw attention to the startup’s E Ink keyboard, which is available for pre order for $199.
We’ve contacted both Apple and Sonder to ask about this story and will update it when we know more.