There's a new type of keyboard switch a-comin'. Most laptop keyboards these days use scissor switches backed by rubber cups, but as CNet News reports, a company named Darfon has replaced that mechanism with frickin' magnets.
How do they work? Simple: instead of sitting on collapsible rubber cups or domes, the keys hover magnetically. The CNet story says it's possible to alter the resistance level "electronically," so I presume these are electromagnets we're talking about. Don't go investing all your savings in neodymium futures just yet.
Darfon expects its "Maglev Keyboard" design to help make laptops thinner. Indeed, in CNet's picture of a prototype implementation, the key caps are almost flush with the notebook's casing. That has its downsides, though: CNet's Aloysius Low explains that, while the "pressure and 'clickiness'" of the prototype was good, "the keys were so close to the notebook that it was quite hard to type with." I've had similarly aggravating experiences with shallow chiclet keyboards in the past. Perhaps making the key caps slightly concave would help.
Oh, and since these are electromagnets, I'd also expect there to be a small battery life hit. Too bad the CNet story doesn't address that point.
Nitpicks aside, I do think the prospect of replacing rubber cups with electromagnets holds promise. Rubber can wear out and lose its responsiveness over time, but electromagnets shouldn't have that problem. We'll see how well the concept works out later this year, when Darfon expects its first notebook design wins to hit the market.