Apple developing dynamic OLED-based keyboard

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
Apple Inc. in a new patent filing proposes to solve the ages-old problem of having to manufacture distinct keyboards to support the various alphabets and key arrangements of foreign countries by developing an OLED-based model where key arrangements are altered on the fly by software.



The invention proposes a radical new keyboard design, where the face of each key is comprised of a matrix of tiny lights -- or organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) -- that illuminate characters based on instructions from software, therefore allowing for dynamic keyboard layouts that can be tailored on the fly for specific regions or applications.



"The most common physical arrangements of keys on keyboards in Western countries are based on the "QWERTY" layout (including closely related variants, such as the French "AZERTY" layout). However, in countries that do not use the Western alphabet, the keyboard layout is often very different," the Mac maker explained in the filing.



"Most computers allow a user can change the keyboard settings, or keyboard locale, for example, from a conventional QWERTY keyboard layout to a keyboard layout for the Cyrillic alphabet. Typically, there is an indication on the computer screen telling the user knows what keyboard locale is currently selected. However, nothing about the physical appearance of the keys themselves changes when a different locale is selected, so there is no way for a user to know what Cyrillic character will appear on the screen when a particular English key is depressed, unless the user has already memorized the locations of all the Cyrillic characters on the keyboard."



Furthermore, Apple said, many software applications makes extensive use of the various function keys on a computer keyboard, as well as the "Ctrl" and "Alt" keys, and various combinations thereof with the alphanumeric keys on the keyboard. As such, it is often difficult for a user to remember what operations the various function keys perform in different software applications, and what effect depressing a "Ctrl" or "Alt" key in combination with an alphanumeric character will have in various software applications.







"Therefore, in view of the above discussion, there is a need for a better way to indicate to a user what the effect will be of depressing a particular key or combination of keys on a peripheral device, such as a keyboard," the company wrote.



By way of Apple's invention, the altering key faces of the keyboard are accomplished by placing a number of organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) on each key face, and using an application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) placed inside each key to turn on and turn off the respective diodes.



The respective ASICs would be controlled by signals originating from the software application in which the user is currently working and by the selected language locale. As a result, the users always have current and accurate information in front of them about what will happen when a particular key is depressed on the keyboard, and there is no need to memorize what actions particular key depressions will cause.



The March 13, 2007 patent filing is credited to Apple engineers Gavin Reid and Eric Smith.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 73
    This would be a godsend for gaming....
  • Reply 2 of 73
    Wouldn't this be prohibitively expensive?
  • Reply 3 of 73
    buckbuck Posts: 293member
    Great idea! Here's hoping we see it this year.
  • Reply 4 of 73
    How does this patent differ from the Optimus Maximus keyboard from Art. Lebedev?
  • Reply 5 of 73
    derevderev Posts: 64member
    Ins't this reinventing the wheel? The Russians already have it on the market. Also, the extant version eliminates the cabling required by having the oleds on the keyboard base rather than in the keys. ~$462.27



    http://www.artlebedev.com/everything/optimus/
  • Reply 6 of 73
    Have a look at these:



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

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



    Seems that keyboard with OLED displays already exists.
  • Reply 7 of 73
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by derev View Post


    Ins't this reinventing the wheel? The Russians already have it on the market. Also, the extant version eliminates the cabling required by having the oleds on the keyboard base rather than in the keys. ~$462.27



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



    $426.27 buys you an active spacebar... if you want all 113 keys, prepare to shell out $1564.37
  • Reply 8 of 73
    physguyphysguy Posts: 920member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by JoeyLemur View Post


    How does this patent differ from the Optimus Maximus keyboard from Art. Lebedev?



    Hopefully Apple got tired of waiting for an actual, shipping product. Don't know about the IP though.
  • Reply 9 of 73
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by JoeyLemur View Post


    How does this patent differ from the Optimus Maximus keyboard from Art. Lebedev?



    It apparently doesn't.



    I wish Apple well--it'd be nice to see Apple throw its bulk-purchasing power behind this and produce it for less than the $1500 that Art Lebedev is charging.



    But the concept behind the Optimus Maximus was published back in mid-2005, and the Optimus mini-three was in production in mid-2006--well before Apple filed its patent. There's enough prior art to squash this patent like a bug.
  • Reply 10 of 73
    I really think they could just do this with a multitouch keyboard.



    The developers could create keys and control interfaces that match apps and change at a whim.
  • Reply 11 of 73
    physguyphysguy Posts: 920member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by cromulent View Post


    It apparently doesn't.



    I wish Apple well--it'd be nice to see Apple throw its bulk-purchasing power behind this and produce it for less than the $1500 that Art Lebedev is charging.



    But the concept behind the Optimus Maximus was published back in mid-2005, and the Optimus mini-three was in production in mid-2006--well before Apple filed its patent. There's enough prior art to squash this patent like a bug.



    That may, or may not, be the case, depending on the claims in the patent. If they include application concepts, support software, etc. it could very well be viable. Does anyone have a link to the patent? I can't find it (simply).
  • Reply 12 of 73
    Guess this will be interesting - Viruses can now be written for Mac OS X that would remap the keyboard and get rid of Cmd-Q or Ctrl-C for that matter



    Some keys should not be allowed to be mapped I guess )
  • Reply 13 of 73
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,585member
    Lebedev is only expecting to sell a few hundred of these, possibly a thousand.



    If Apple does it, they would price it for a MUCH wider audience. Remember when Apple and iBM keyboards went for $200? That's over $350 in todays dollars. If Apple could get it there, or somewhat below, it would be reasonable. I would probably buy one.



    Keyboards for professional FCP, PS, and other programs now go for over $200. This could do what they do, and do it for several programs, saving people money if they now need more than one.
  • Reply 14 of 73
    Even if there is a readily available keyboard, Apple has a lot of room to improve the aesthetics by losing some of the bulk and clumsiness of the Optimus Maximus. Also I believe Apple is keeping actionable keys instead of having the OLEDs on the base for a better user experience.
  • Reply 15 of 73
    ajmasajmas Posts: 601member
    Is power required for actually displaying the values or just changing their state? This is an important factor, especially in portable computer.
  • Reply 16 of 73
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,585member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ajmas View Post


    Is power required for actually displaying the values or just changing their state? This is an important factor, especially in portable computer.



    Power is needed, but not too much.
  • Reply 17 of 73
    I'd be more excited about adding a iphone/ ipod touch like multi touch screen on the side of the keyboard or next to the trackpad for multi-touch gestures, custom buttons, etc. This would probably work better on a laptop, but maybe it's too much like sideshow for Vista.
  • Reply 18 of 73
    Did anyone notice the missing apple key?

    Is this the secret product that AI reports Apple as saying will be announced at the FCP event?
  • Reply 19 of 73
    bageljoeybageljoey Posts: 2,007member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by luvosx View Post


    Guess this will be interesting - Viruses can now be written for Mac OS X that would remap the keyboard and get rid of Cmd-Q or Ctrl-C for that matter



    Some keys should not be allowed to be mapped I guess )



    Nice catch. It would have been hours before I thought of this. My mind is not as devious as it used to be, apparently.



    It could be really useful, but think of the mischief what could be wrought!
  • Reply 20 of 73
    Wouldn't e-paper (or e-ink) be a better solution than oleds? It needs almost no power... Just wondering. Maybe electronic ink isn't suitable when touched all the time... don't know.
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