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Apple shows interest in individually lit, multi-color keyboard backlights

post #1 of 53
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Apple has shown interest in providing more advanced keyboard backlights on its notebook computers, allowing greater user interaction with individually lit keys and multiple colors.

A slew of patent applications revealed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week reveal Apple's interest in advancing its keyboard backlights. They note that current keyboards offer some feedback via light, such as when the "Caps Lock" key is enabled, but a more informative keyboard could be beneficial to users.

"Most conventional keyboards lack the ability to convey complex information to a user (such as, for example, more information than just whether the CAPS lock key is on)," the application reads. "And while some conventional keyboards may include backlit keys, conventional keyboards with backlighting do not offer the ability to dynamically control lighting schemes for each of the keys individually based on interaction from the user."

Lighting individual keys could help users identify available functions when holding a modifier key like "Command" or "Option." They could also be lighted to help users complete tasks in a specific application.

Apple's solution, described in a handful of new patent applications, would have more dynamic keyboard backlights, with individually illuminated keys and multiple colors. One application, titled "Keyboard with Increased Control of Backlit Keys," describes a MacBook that would have different illumination schemes based on which application is running.



The goal would be accomplished with individual LED lights located within each key on the keyboard. The notebook would then control those lights, allowing specific keys related to a task at hand to be illuminated or colored appropriately.

Another application, "White Point Adjustment for Multicolor Keyboard Backlight," describes a keyboard backlighting system that would rely on a light sensor included with the MacBook. The color of the keys on the notebook would be adjusted accordingly, making them easier to see in various lighting conditions.

"A controller is electrically coupled to the light source and the light sensor and configured to determine the intensity and color of light to which the light sensor is exposed," the application reads, "and dynamically adjust the output of the light source to match the determined intensity and color of light to which the light sensor is exposed."



Yet another application deals with the user interface functions that would become possible only with individually lit keys with multiple colors. Entitled "User Interface Behaviors for Input Device with Individually Controlled Illuminated Input Elements," it describes adjusting the keyboard lighting based on what program is being used on the notebook, or to notify the user of something.

"The request for input device lighting from the program may be based on input selections received from the input device such as illuminating keys on a keyboard that are the next possible letters in a word being typed or keys associated with a pressed command key," that application reads.

The applications, published this week, were all filed with the USPTO in June of 2009.
post #2 of 53
I can see the potential. I have to admit ever since I got my MBP i7 this year I keep thinking something is wrong with my other Mac keyboards ... then I realize it is the lack of the keyboard lighting. So much more could be done to help in usage for sure, I love the idea of contextual help this way.

User settings would be essential if color were used, color blind folks would need to adjust accordingly although presets for the different color blindness types would be a good thing to have as built ins.
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post #3 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Apple has show interest in providing more advanced keyboard backlights on its notebook computers

I didn't see one quote referring to a notebook, nor were the pictures of a notebook at all.

They just released "the future of macbooks" in the air and it doesn't even have a back lit keyboard, let alone dynamic lighting.

I think if they were to use this technology it would be for their high end software (ie. Final cut) for making navigation commands easier.
They would most likely release a standalone blue tooth dynamically lit keyboard with a revolutionary sounding name.

Then maybe if it was well received it might make it to the macbook pro.
post #4 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by bcahill009 View Post

I didn't see one quote referring to a notebook, nor were the pictures of a notebook at all.

They just released "the future of macbooks" in the air and it doesn't even have a back lit keyboard, let alone dynamic lighting.

I think if they were to use this technology it would be for their high end software (ie. Final cut) for making navigation commands easier.
They would most likely release a standalone blue tooth dynamically lit keyboard with a revolutionary sounding name.

Then maybe if it was well received it might make it to the macbook pro.

I was shocked they dropped it on the Air I must admit.
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post #5 of 53
I call Prior Art on that patent:

http://www.artlebedev.com/everything/optimus/

Major Prior Art...and then some.
post #6 of 53
Backlit full-size wireless keyboard for desktops please.
post #7 of 53
Yeah... gawd this gets boring, totally thought this up with a friend over ten years ago. This industry is so dull on innovation. So why do I like Apple, because at least they are only a decade behind. The rest are so backward such a bleedingly obvious thing would never have even been thought of.
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post #8 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by michaelab View Post

I call Prior Art on that patent:

http://www.artlebedev.com/everything/optimus/

Major Prior Art...and then some.

doesn't sound like what Apple has in mind.. besides. a mini OLED on each key is not cheap.

optimus maximus sells for $1500-2000 (if you can even find one).. but here's a video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWkjtnd367Q

(got to admit it's pretty slick)
post #9 of 53
As nifty an idea as the old secondary number pad was on the iBooks, you (OK - I) could never quite visually isolate the keys needed. If they could change the color of clear-in-white numbers on those keys, you might have something workable.
post #10 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by michaelab View Post

I call Prior Art on that patent:

http://www.artlebedev.com/everything/optimus/

Major Prior Art...and then some.

Yeah, milkmage is right, not even close to the same thing.


As far as the "future of laptops" comment, I'm pretty sure he was speaking about SSD, no optical drive, plus smaller and more compact. The lack of backlighting was odd, but I'd guess needed to maintain the battery life they wanted. MBP has more space inside to pack battery after all. If they already had this variable light system mastered in time for the MBA refresh, they would have included it and we probably wouldn't have seen much of a (if any) dip in battery claims
post #11 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by michaelab View Post

I call Prior Art on that patent:

http://www.artlebedev.com/everything/optimus/

Major Prior Art...and then some.

That's a totally different product/invention.

LCD screens on keys is not the same as backlighting on keys, not even close.
post #12 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

That's a totally different product/invention.

LCD screens on keys is not the same as backlighting on keys, not even close.

Actually, I proposed something exactly like...

Quote:
The goal would be accomplished with individual LED lights located within each key on the keyboard. The notebook would then control those lights, allowing specific keys related to a task at hand to be illuminated or colored appropriately.

...when the Optimus was announced. The miniature displays on the Optimus would obviously cost a ton of money, so individual backlights for separate functions were the obvious solution, as cy_starkman wrote. Not as versatile, but a whole lot more affordable, and even customizable if the user can print up custom overlays to fit under the keycaps. I can't imagine how USPTO can approve this unless their examiners no longer understand the "unobviousness" requirement in patent law.
post #13 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kolchak View Post

Actually, I proposed something exactly like...



...when the Optimus was announced. The miniature displays on the Optimus would obviously cost a ton of money, so individual backlights for separate functions were the obvious solution, as cy_starkman wrote. Not as versatile, but a whole lot more affordable, and even customizable if the user can print up custom overlays to fit under the keycaps. I can't imagine how USPTO can approve this unless their examiners no longer understand the "unobviousness" requirement in patent law.

Apple also has a patent application that got brought into the light back in 2008 for a dynamically changeable OLED keyboard. That would seemingly have prior art issues, given the Optimus first came about back in 2005. Looks like you should have tried to get a patent on your idea. Looks like Apple will get it now.

I don't know about the unobviousness issue tho. You would have to take backlit keyboards, combine the idea with the dynamic OLED keyboards and then maybe the light up trainer electronic keyboards to teach you to play piano to approximate the new Apple plan. The keys won't change like in the Optimus tho, they will just be lit at different levels of brightness depending on light source as well as highlight function keys. ALl told, it's pretty different.
post #14 of 53
i'm just glad Apple is still intereseted in physical keyboards...

it seems like they might be trying to get users used to using a keyboard on a screen vs an actual keyboard.
post #15 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by cy_starkman View Post

Yeah... gawd this gets boring, totally thought this up with a friend over ten years ago. This industry is so dull on innovation. So why do I like Apple, because at least they are only a decade behind. The rest are so backward such a bleedingly obvious thing would never have even been thought of.

I assume you're writing from the mega-mansion you bought with the proceeds from the brilliant ideas you've implemented?
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post #16 of 53
While the Optimus keyboard is cool, the cost is prohibitive.
I wonder if Apple could do the same concept but use e-ink instead of OLED.
I think the target demographic should be Pro Apps like Photoshop, FinalCut, etc
I think it would make the most sense on Apple's full size Pro keyboard.
In order for it to be successful they should price it at no more than $199.
Many of the keyboard overlays run $50. This gives you an infinite # of overlays and functions in various apps.
post #17 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Lighting individual keys could help users identify available functions when holding a modifier key like "Command" or "Option." They could also be lighted to help users complete tasks in a specific application.

This feature would actually be pretty useful to novice users, actually.

Or, if I am playing StarCraft II and click a unit/building, the keyboard can light up the available hotkeys.
post #18 of 53
"Yeah... gawd this gets boring, totally thought this up with a friend over ten years ago. This industry is so dull on innovation."

Gee, when I was in college in the early 80s I thought up the idea that there should be a computer service that gave you access to every song ever written - the ultimate music library / store. It took 20+ years to see that realized, but I never felt "bored" along the way . . .
post #19 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


Lighting individual keys could help users identify available functions when holding a modifier key like "Command" or "Option." They could also be lighted to help users complete tasks in a specific application.



Great idea! I hope that Apple's specific implementation is protected, but that other companies will be free to use different colored LEDs in their keyboards too.
post #20 of 53
I call dibs on the patent for using this for Dance Dance Keyboard Revolution. Think about it. Would be awesome. I can already imagine the ads... Cubicle slaves peek out over the partition, secretly fire up some DDKR with some of the latest Black Eyed Peas. Live to work another day. 30 million $ gaming market right there once all Macs are equipped with this individual key lighting thingymajigs.
post #21 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Negafox View Post

This feature would actually be pretty useful to novice users, actually.

Or, if I am playing StarCraft II and click a unit/building, the keyboard can light up the available hotkeys.

Dude can you tell me is there any conceivable use of the Terran Predator unit? And yeah I'm useless at using hotkeys in SC2. In fact, if I ever play multiplayer I'm imagining using Diamondbacks all the time because they can fire while moving. It's tough having to always move-attack or do the constant micro-move clicking (you know where you move a little every few seconds so your units stop long enough to fire)...
post #22 of 53
I'll settle for just the plain ol'backlit keyboard. Dell offers it as an option on some for $25, so its not like they are budget killers

I have a ThinkPad with a simple LED illumination from the screen bezel. Its great. Was strongly looking at a MBA... but no illumination arggggh. Yes I am picky and I use computers in a dark room and dark aircraft etc. I guess I could go with one of those cheapy USB lights... yuck.

And for anyone who says 'just touch type' ... up you nose with a rubber hose!
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post #23 of 53
Double post
post #24 of 53
"Yet another application deals with the user interface functions that would become possible only with individually lit keys with multiple colors. Entitled "User Interface Behaviors for Input Device with Individually Controlled Illuminated Input Elements," it describes adjusting the keyboard lighting based on what program is being used on the notebook, or to notify the user of something."

and

"Apple's solution, described in a handful of new patent applications, would have more dynamic keyboard backlights, with individually illuminated keys and multiple colors. One application, titled "Keyboard with Increased Control of Backlit Keys," describes a MacBook that would have different illumination schemes based on which application is running."

Please read the whole thing next time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bcahill009 View Post

I didn't see one quote referring to a notebook, nor were the pictures of a notebook at all.

They just released "the future of macbooks" in the air and it doesn't even have a back lit keyboard, let alone dynamic lighting.

I think if they were to use this technology it would be for their high end software (ie. Final cut) for making navigation commands easier.
They would most likely release a standalone blue tooth dynamically lit keyboard with a revolutionary sounding name.

Then maybe if it was well received it might make it to the macbook pro.
post #25 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by milkmage View Post

doesn't sound like what Apple has in mind.. besides. a mini OLED on each key is not cheap.

optimus maximus sells for $1500-2000 (if you can even find one).. but here's a video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWkjtnd367Q

(got to admit it's pretty slick)

KoooooooL!

Video and Keyboard-excellent. Lawsuit to follow!

Microsoft recently announced that they have technology to change texture surface. If Apple can come up with a keyboard that had texture and light change, finding my Photoshop keys in the dark would be so much easier, but I am sure Adobe would start throwing in more keyboard shortcuts and then we'd have to buy one!
post #26 of 53
Now, if they would only apply that enlightened view to iTunes. That unremittingly gray interface makes it a chore for me to locate the Store link--not a good thing for sales.
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post #27 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin Huber View Post

Now, if they would only apply that enlightened view to iTunes. That unremittingly gray interface makes it a chore for me to locate the Store link--not a good thing for sales.

Thanks for whining about something that has nothing to do with the thread topic.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Mozzarella View Post

...Optimus... ...In order for it to be successful they should price it at no more than $199...

Come back in a decade and a half, then. There's absolutely no way Apple could sell a $1400 keyboard for $200.
post #28 of 53
My first thought for an application of this is actually World of Warcraft, having a key light up corresponding to a Spell Alerted ability.
post #29 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

I was shocked they dropped it on the Air I must admit.

If Led Backlighting is to thick for the Air, maybe they could use something like this.

www.lighttape.com/select_install_light_tape.asp?ContentId=481
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post #30 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by bmovie View Post

KoooooooL!

Video and Keyboard-excellent. Lawsuit to follow!

Microsoft recently announced that they have technology to change texture surface. If Apple can come up with a keyboard that had texture and light change, finding my Photoshop keys in the dark would be so much easier, but I am sure Adobe would start throwing in more keyboard shortcuts and then we'd have to buy one!

I have always imagined that one day LCD (or similar) keyboards would take over. It makes sense to have one universal keyboard that can be programmed to suit individual applications. Graphics and video editing comes to mind but I am sure there are many other types of applications that would benefit from something different than a traditional keyboard layout.

But if people struggle with a non responsive surface, I wonder if some kind of very thin, transparent semi responsive overlay would work? To have an individual LCD on each key seems upside down to me. All that flat screen technology and you are stuck with a traditional keyboard?
post #31 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by mbarriault View Post

My first thought for an application of this is actually World of Warcraft, having a key light up corresponding to a Spell Alerted ability.

It already happens on your screen since the 4.0.1 patch, at least as far as the official notifications go. Like my Resto Druid gets a proc from casting Wrath and my Starfire button gets highlighted. Not to mention the green, leafy parentheses around me. I do admit that it would be cool if what was happening on the screen would highlight the key (and key combinations) on your keyboard as well if desired.
post #32 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by SSquirrel View Post

It already happens on your screen since the 4.0.1 patch, at least as far as the official notifications go. Like my Resto Druid gets a proc from casting Wrath and my Starfire button gets highlighted. Not to mention the green, leafy parentheses around me. I do admit that it would be cool if what was happening on the screen would highlight the key (and key combinations) on your keyboard as well if desired.

I know, I very much love the addition (though it, annoyingly, doesn't highlight any Maelstrom Weapon ability on my Shaman :S). I can see them extending this into highlighting the physical key as well.
post #33 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by mbarriault View Post

I know, I very much love the addition (though it, annoyingly, doesn't highlight any Maelstrom Weapon ability on my Shaman :S). I can see them extending this into highlighting the physical key as well.

Ahh I've mostly been playing a Pally Tank, Ele Shammy and Resto Druid since the patch. Boomkin is fun (and 10g for dual spec is amazing), but I'm fine w/how Resto solos.

Now back to our regularly scheduled computer geeking
post #34 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

Thanks for whining about something that has nothing to do with the thread topic.
Come back in a decade and a half, then. There's absolutely no way Apple could sell a $1400 keyboard for $200.

Don't you just love it when newbies get all judgy on your posts?
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post #35 of 53
Solution in search of a problem.
post #36 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by nvidia2008 View Post

Dude can you tell me is there any conceivable use of the Terran Predator unit? And yeah I'm useless at using hotkeys in SC2. In fact, if I ever play multiplayer I'm imagining using Diamondbacks all the time because they can fire while moving. It's tough having to always move-attack or do the constant micro-move clicking (you know where you move a little every few seconds so your units stop long enough to fire)...

Honestly, I choose the Hercules instead to transport numerous troops... although I really don't use that one either. There are some cheese units I would prefer to use instead (i.e. Banshees, Battlecruisers, Thors, Ghosts/Spectres, etc).

Singleplayer and multiplayer have different units despite there is some overlap. The Diamondbacks and Predators are not available in multiplayer.
post #37 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin Huber View Post

Don't you just love it when newbies get all judgy on your posts?

Well iTunes DID have jack shit to do with the topic and while I don't think it will take 15 years to bring the price of something like the Optimus down from 1500 to 200, it certainly won't be this year.
post #38 of 53
Oh so simple to do on an iPad or iPhone, no hardware just some code for iOS. Slip it into 5.0 for a few functions and see how it is received. Bet there are some at 1 Infinite Loop that already have it.
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post #39 of 53
Spiffy. So you stick an RGB LED under each key. Each color gets... say 2 bits of intensity, maybe 3 for RG and 2 for B. Let's say 3:3:2 so each key's color fits in a byte. Now you can do the obvious like light up keys contextually to tell the user what they can do, or adjust the backlight based on the environmental brightness. Yawn.

You could also turn every key into an ambient orb. Have the keyboard pulse when an IM comes in, attach keys to Growl, run rainbow patterns across it just for fun. Light up the different sections (F-keys, num-keypad, arrow keys, etc.) in different colors! Make keys pulse when pushed - even have the color ripple out across the keyboard. What fun!

Really, if Apple wants to keep backlit keyboards because they've proven to be a useful and desirable feature - and they have, and if they've decided that sticking a tiny surface mount LED in each key is a good way do it, then keyboards could become crazy, gaudy, fun things.

- Jasen.
post #40 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by SSquirrel View Post

Well iTunes DID have jack shit to do with the topic and while I don't think it will take 15 years to bring the price of something like the Optimus down from 1500 to 200, it certainly won't be this year.

Why are posters so quick to use crude language against fellow posters? I didn't run over your dog, just commented that I thought I was being unfairly criticized by another poster.

The article included information about an Apple patent for using color lighting for laptop keys. Presumably this is to assist in improving typing accuracy, not for decoration. It struck me that if they are thinking that way for one product, why not another? I am not the only one to express regret that iTunes has lost its color icons in the left hand source pane. I don't think that differentiating buttons by design but not color is an improvement. I think that my comment was more than tangentially related to the topic, and didn't merit being labeled a "whiner" or being "jack shit" off topic.

Jeez, why are people so cross all the time here?
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