Apple's Reconfigurable Keyboard

As requested by @DevotionGeo, a thread about Apple’s patent regarding a new reconfigurable keyboard…

Last month, Apple patented a new version of the Touch Bar with built-in Force Touch technology. Now, the US Patent & Trademark Office has granted Apple a patent for a “reconfigurable” Mac keyboard that is built with a small display for each key, allowing the keyboard to show different characters according to the user’s preferences.

Although the idea may sound like what the Touch Bar currently does, this new keyboard would work in a different way. The physical keys would still be there, but the patent shows that the keys on this new keyboard contain a super small display for each key instead of regular engraved labels.

As pointed out by Patently Apple, the patent reveals a keyboard with dynamic labels that are generated by organic light-emitting diode displays with pixel arrays. These displays are not expected to have high resolution or other fancy specifications, as they should be focused on showing basic characters.

This would allow users to set up different keyboard layouts that also change key labels — such as a specific layout for games, programming, or video editing. Apple could also create a single keyboard model to be used worldwide as the keys of this new keyboard would be able to show different characters based on users’ settings.

This could be really cool and I am surprised they have not done something like this sooner as it would be another way that Mac’s become something ‘more’ than just a regular PC.

Hope it won’t cost the earth tho!!


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Displays on each key? So they are stealing old technology and selling it as their own?


Wouldn’t surprise me Norbert… they have a habit of taking existing tech and ‘polishing’ it or making it more mainstream. I think they patented such a keyboard back in 2007, so they’ve had plenty of time to work on it - I hope we’ll see it soon - the keyboard space definitely needs a shake-up imo!

Here’s the actual patent:

Electronic devices having keys with coherent fiber bundles

An electronic device may have a reconfigurable keyboard. The keyboard may be formed from an array of keys coupled to a housing. Each key may have a movable key member and an associated key display. Control circuitry in the keyboard may direct the key displays to display dynamically adjustable key labels for the keys. Each key movable key member may be formed from a fiber optic plate. The fiber optic plate may be formed from a coherent fiber bundle with opposing first and second surfaces. The first surface may be adjacent to the key display and may receive key label images from the key display. The second surface may face outwardly towards a user and may receive key press input from the fingers of a user while presenting key label images for viewing.,877,570.PN.&OS=PN/10,877,570&RS=PN/10,877,570

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Yeah, in the meantime I read the comments on the linked article, and some even explain that this freshly granted patent actually is the one they sent in in 2007 and that the Maximus was created at the same time is just an accident.

Also others claimed that it is more about the “how” than the “what”.

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The Maximus came out a year before I think, so I imagine they might sue Apple if Apple do ever make such a keyboard (though I doubt it will prove much of a hurdle to Apple since they have very deep pockets).

I’m still interested to see one, wonder if we’ll see them this year with the new Apple-silicon iMacs? :upside_down_face: