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. “I have a hard time believing that this is an Apple product since Apple have always used a “Delete” key and not a “BackSpace” key.”

    ummm, the point is that it can be either. please, in the name of all that is good tell me you know that and where kidding….

    if so, ok, damn funny. but next time tack a ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” /> on there for me, i am a little slow…

  2. I think this would be a great product, if affordable. It would solve for Apple the problem of shipping one product to anyone in the world and having it work great for them. And application designers could use it to display special functions. For example, Cmd-C could say “Cut” when you pushed a special modifier– would make key combinations much easier to learn if you could (in essence) have “tooltips” right on the keyboard.

  3. If the OLEDs work as I think they will the artwork is a bit misleading. The characters would appear more like the backlit ones on the MBP keys, that is to say bright patterns on a darker background. Depending upon the surface treatment they can be made to essentially disappear when not powered up.

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