Apple patents keyboard with in-key displays, capacitive touch sensors

Each key is a little OLED screen. I’d imagine you could use the entire keyboard as a single discrete display, or switch keyboards on the fly, to an accounting keyboard, for example.

Fascinating possibilities.

  • imthedude
    • Clearly you didn’t click through to the article, which mentions the Optimus Popularis pretty obviously.

    • Dave Mark

      Exactly. That keyboard is actually called out in the article. Thing is, I think Apple would create something more functional and, certainly, more aesthetically pleasing. :)

    • Apple’s invention builds on this display-within-key concept by adding multiple layers to the keystack. While the Optimus is limited to input via a physical switch and output through an OLED, Apple’s invention allows for multiple modes of input and output.For example, the multi-functional keystack can be configured to accept user input through a switch-type button, while a capacitive surface component can provide a second independent input through multitouch gestures.

      …so yeah, not really the same invention at all. but yes, it is a keyboard.

    • Sigivald

      I forgive imthedude because our host’s post didn’t mention the novel part of the Apple patent, which is stacking the OLED screens with haptic feedback and a capacitive touch surface.

      As written it sure reads like “Hey, OLEDs on a keyboard! New!”

      [Though using it “as a single discrete display” sounds like a terrible idea – the keys have gaps between them, and, well, keys have markings for a reason.]

      I’m with Mr. Mark on assuming that Apple will, if it does anything with this patent, make something both more awesome than the Optimus and far cheaper, from economies of scale.

      • JohnDoey

        Apple is famous for making the fewest models possible, and for making one model for the entire world whenever possible, but for every single Mac model such as MacBook Air 11-inch, there are actually a bunch of individual SKU’s based on different keyboards for different languages. And there are some languages, like Greek, for which there is no Mac available at all. I would be very surprised if Apple put displays on the keycaps and then didn’t fix this problem by essentially making 1 Mac keyboard/SKU that is universal because it can switch character sets on the fly. They would get fewer SKU’s, and also be able to sell that Mac SKU more broadly, for example in Greece, which loves iPads (which have Greek keyboards) but doesn’t buy Macs (which don’t.)

    • JohnDoey

      The point is not just to have displays on the keyboard — Apple would be able to make these displays available to developers via an API so that, for example, when you are in Final Cut, the keyboard changes to a video editing keyboard, or when you switch your Mac to Japanese input, the keys would all switch to Japanese characters.

  • JohnDoey

    I was thinking this was needed when I showed a friend how to enable a non-Roman language keyboard on her iPad and iPhone and she asked me how to do the same on her Mac, but the Mac version turned out to be very unsatisfying because the keys didn’t change. So she had to type in a non-Roman language on a Roman character set keyboard, which was such a pain in the ass that she doesn’t use it, although she uses the non-Roman keyboard on her iPad and iPhone all the time. The solution for the Mac turns out to be a set of stickers with the non-Roman characters on them that you can get to stick on the keyboard, but she still wants the Roman keycaps also.

    Also, in Photoshop, most of the time the keys do not type characters. The V key chooses the pointer tool, the M key chooses the Marquee tool, and so on. So when running Photoshop, ideally the V key would show the actual pointer tool, the M key would show the actual Marquee tool, and so on. And when you enable the Text tool, the keyboard could show the numbers and letters, which would help the user a lot because a stumbling block in Photoshop is to be “stuck in the Text tool” without realizing it and press V to get the pointer and you just type a V.

    Same with Final Cut — the keys are not typing the Roman characters they show. Video editors actually plug in a special USB/Bluetooth keyboard with special Final Cut keycaps. That sort of defeats the purpose of a Mac notebook with video workstation power being stuffed into a case that is measured in millimeter thicknesses.

    And when you press Command, the V should change to Paste, and so on. That would probably increase the use of key shortcuts dramatically and save many users a lot of time.

    So keys with displays on them are the obvious next step for the mechanical keyboard.