Apple to take cues from the Optimus keyboard?

No, Apple hasn’t bought out Art Lebedev, the Russian studio infamous for its near-vaporware Optimus keyboard with individual displays on every key. However, the folks in Cupertino, California seem to be contemplating a keyboard based on a very similar concept.

As PC Joint reports, Apple has filed a patent for a “dynamically controlled keyboard” that features “several light emitting diodes disposed on a face of the key.” The diodes are of the organic kind (OLEDs), and there are enough of them to display a little picture on each key. In the diagrams that accompany the patent filing, Apple shows a keyboard configurable for both QWERTY and Russian keyboard layouts with keys that each have 56 OLED pixels (7 x 8).

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Steve Jobs to unveil OLED keyboards at the Macworld Conference later this month, though. The patent is already a year and a half old, and Art Lebedev’s own Optimus Maximus keyboard with all-OLED keys will cost a grand and a half when it comes out next month. That said, the advantages of a completely dynamic keyboard design are obvious, and Apple could use the manufacturing resources at its disposal to one day bring such a product to market.

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    • dolemitecomputers
    • 12 years ago

    Continuing on the subject of fancy keyboards, how about a hand crafted steam punk keyboard? I’m not sure if any of you have heard about the steam punk phenomenon but these keyboards are created using that type of philosophy. They generally take about 2 months to be made and cost about $800-$1000.

    §[<http://steampunkworkshop.com/keyboard.shtml<]§ §[<http://www.datamancer.net/keyboards/keyboards.htm<]§

      • UberGerbil
      • 12 years ago

      Once a tech fad shows up in Time or Newsweek, it’s over:
      §[<http://www.newsweek.com/id/67352<]§

      • albundy
      • 12 years ago

      the keyboards are truly beautiful, but completely impractical. the felt lining will collect all dust, food, particles, etc, and is not spill proof. The steampunk keyboards are more of a showpiece than something you can really use daily. Nothing beats the ms ergo 4000 in terms of comfort and usability.

    • Chrispy_
    • 12 years ago

    An expensive, complicated and stylish solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist.

    Go Go Apple!

    • DrDillyBar
    • 12 years ago

    pfft, if they want to they could. rather see them do so then it not happen really.

    • bdwilcox
    • 12 years ago

    Did Apple’s lawyers ever hear of “prior-art”?

      • Perezoso
      • 12 years ago

      Yes, but they are on a patent spree. They patented the concept of Windows Genuine Advantage too.

      • Corrado
      • 12 years ago

      I don’t think Russian companies can apply for US patents.

        • bdwilcox
        • 12 years ago

        Of course they can.

        • DrCR
        • 12 years ago

        Prior art nullifies Apple’s patent submission, whether Art Lebedev has a US patent on the idea or not.

    • Mithent
    • 12 years ago

    I must admit that I don’t really get the idea of this kind of thing; I don’t look at the keyboard while typing and I would expect that few others who are experienced with computers do. If the keys keep changing depending on context, it would slow everything down significantly by requiring me to keep checking what the keys did now, and if you’re not regularly changing the bindings then there’s no advantage to having OLED pictures on the keys.

    There’s some limited application in helping you learn what keys do in complicated programs/games, I guess, provided the pictures are clear enough to make out options such as ‘raise landing gear’ or ‘align objects left’, but mostly it doesn’t sound that helpful.

      • muyuubyou
      • 12 years ago

      It makes sense for function keys.

        • Mithent
        • 12 years ago

        Yeah, I was thinking that was really the place where it makes sense, provided these pictures are clear enough.

      • Klopsik206
      • 12 years ago

      Typing? You right. But don’t forget keyboard is still primary control device for lot’s of applications.
      Have you ever struggling with keyboard shortcuts?

        • BenBasson
        • 12 years ago

        A dynamic keyboard would really, really aid in the discovery of keyboard shortcuts, especially when learning new applications and/or games. If you regularly play more than one FPS and you don’t have the patience to change the keys immediately after installation, it’s easy to forget keys.

        I use a handful of shortcuts in most applications, but there are usually many more that I will never discover as long as it’s easier to just click a toolbar button than use Help or Google to find out what the key combination for that function is.

          • UberGerbil
          • 12 years ago

          While I agree in principle — one can imagine pressing the Ctl key (or the Apple key) and seeing all the other keys change to show their shortcuts — this particular Apple implementation doesn’t really help, because 7×8 pixels is barely enough to show a character. It’s certainly not enough to show any kind of discernable icon beyond some very basic glyphs (even the small icons in the tray or on browser tabs or small toolbars are 16×16 or so). Sure, you might manage something that looks like scissors for “cut” — but people already know that shortcut. This particular implementation isn’t going to solve the problem you’re interested in.

          The only real use I can see is for configuring keyboards for other languages. And it’s true that in many parts of the developing world where the most growth is going to happen in the coming decades, there’s a need to switch regularly between a “standard” English layout and the native language layout — today they make do with multiple shift keys and multiple characters etched onto each key. It might also be of interest to Japan and China, with their enormous character sets, though there again the low pixel count is going to be a problem.

      • Sargent Duck
      • 12 years ago

      I’m with ya on that. When looking for a new keyboard, I spent days checking out all the different types and models of keyboards. Finally settled on a $20 keyboard, which is perfect for me.

    • odizzido
    • 12 years ago

    This could be really handy stuff, if it didn’t cost so bloody much.

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