Apple looks to patent chameleonic keyboard with OLED key faces

An Apple patent application (20080001787) for “Dynamically Controlled Keyboard” published today describes a chameleonic keyboard with changeable OLED key faces. The patent app was filed on March 13, 2007.

Apple’s Abstract:
Methods and apparatus, including computer program products, implementing and using techniques for providing a computer peripheral including one or more keys. Each key has several light emitting diodes disposed on a face of the key. Each of the light emitting diodes can switch on or off in response to a data signal received from an application specific integrated circuit dedicated to the key. A corresponding key and manufacturing method, as well as a computer system including one or more such keys are also described.

Apple’s Description, in part:
Broadly speaking, the present invention provides methods and apparatus for dynamically altering the key faces of keyboard keys, such that they show an accurate representation of what action will occur when a particular key is depressed. In one embodiment the altering key faces 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 are 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.

In general, in one aspect, the invention provides methods and apparatus, including computer program products, implementing and using techniques for providing a computer peripheral including one or more keys. Each key has several light emitting diodes disposed on a face of the key. Each of the light emitting diodes can switch on or off in response to a data signal received from an application specific integrated circuit dedicated to the key.

Full U.S. patent app here.

MacDailyNews Take: If it comes to fruition, hopefully it’ll cost a fraction of the Optimus Maximus LED keyboard which is currently going for US$462.27.

52 Comments

  1. JMHO. Why use LEDs for each key? It would be much cheaper to just offer different keyboards for each language.

    A better idea is a row of keys on the top of the keyboard that have LEDS. Then the application could allow direct entry/choice for select keys and show you the function directly. Now that would make sense.

    en

  2. It’d be useful if you switched between the more usual crop of business apps and programs like Final Cut a lot – with the key caps reflecting what the FC edit keys were without having to pull the keyboard apart and replace the keys (or have two keyboards…)

  3. True TT, but apparently there are people (with money) that don’t pray to the great white god in the sky!

    The keyboard sounds cool, but I guess this will take time to implement. I believe the iPhone already uses that approach with its soft-keyboard.

  4. capnkirk: those drawings are using generic PeeSea key layouts. Alt? WTF?

    That could be an amazing piece of hardware. Imagine holding down the Option key and having the keyboard show all those extended characters instantly.

    My mother-in-law is Bulgarian. I bought her a USB keyboard with Cyrillic characters. All our Bulgarian friends learned to write Bulgarian using the QWERTY keyboard. They find that the Bulgarian – Phonetic keyboard layout in Mac OS X is actually much easier to use than the standard Bulgarian keyboard layout, since it’s easier to switch back and forth from English and Bulgarian.

    Years ago I had these little clear keyboard key stickers that showed all the extended characters (Option and Shift-Option) in Red. It really was a nice to be able to easily access extended characters without resorting to KeyCaps or PopChar (which is STILL great!)

    Does anyone know where to get key character stickers? I stopped looking.

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