Inside Apple R&D -- Apple Patents Realized

Inside Apple R&D -- Apple Patents Realized

Keyboard Touch


Patent granted March 2007. ETA: 2010


A multitouch panel on steroids, this souped-up keyboard could reorient itself for whatever app you’re running.


Art Lebedev’s Optimus Maximus keyboard has gotten a lot of play in the media (and a ton of fondling and fingerprints when it was shown off at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas). But while the innovative I/O device was being created, Apple filed a patent for a similar keyboard, and we want one.


The device looks like a standard keyboard with glassy keys. But behind the surface of every transparent square is a tiny OLED screen, capable of displaying any image, thereby giving the keyboard nearly infinite options for customization. Switching from a standard keyboard layout to a Dvorak or non-Western character set is a snap, so you can email your friends in Kiev or Chiang Mai in their native script without resorting to a screen-based input system.


When it comes to customizing for specific apps, the keyboard really takes off. Can’t remember which key opens the Dodge tool in Photoshop? Not to worry, all of the functions or their icons can be displayed right on the keys. Gamers have long been forced to play by touch, but icons across the keys will keep new gamers or the fat-fingered from accidentally whipping out a wimpy assault rifle when they meant to frag their opponent with a grenade launcher. Another possibility (as we’ve mocked up here): Using the entire surface area as a giant touchscreen that could be customized however the user desires.


But you don’t have to be a Photoshop pro or hardcore gamer to reap the benefits of this keyboard. Once in place, it can help out in any application, as well as regular computer use outside of apps. When you press Option, Command, or any other function keys, the rest of the keys would dynamically change to list their functions. Remembering all those annoying keyboard shortcuts would become a thing of the past.


So when can you get your hands on one? We don’t suggest holding your breath waiting for the release of this keyboard, but we do suggest counting your pennies. If the Optimus Maximus gives any indication, the first such keyboards will be priced in the hundreds or low thousands.


Back to The Drawing Board


Join us on a trip down memory lane into Apple’s patent archives as we explore six coulda-been products that never went anywhere (and probably never will).


Hot-Swappable Laptop Keyboard, 2005



Though keyboards are useful, they’re not great for every task. But what if you could swap out your notebook keyboard for any tool you desired? That’s just what we found in this design for a “mechanical overlay” that lets you sub different controls into your MacBook.


A large multitouch area beneath a hot-swappable keyboard acts as an input for any number of components: Want to tickle the ivories? Plop in a piano keyboard. Fancy a game? Plug in a game pad. Dig audio mixing? Jam a mixer in there and go to town. You get the idea.


Mechanical controls are great and all, but they could be costly. Why not just have a huge multitouch area and some programs for configuring it any way you want (à la the keyboard touch).




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Hi , I was stoked to see this mac tablet in the mag . I hope it comes out , if it is anything like the other products from apple then yeah I want one . I currently use a samsung Q1 ultra umpc and have it hooked up to a 19 inch lcd monitor/tv with a wireless keyboard and mouse . For me it is a very handy tool because I fly in and out to work . I use it for movies on the plane and its not to bulky to throw into the back pack . When I'm on site I'm able to take it to work and check emails and keep in touch with everyone . I hate trying to use pda's or mobile's to check these things . It is also handy doing my banking on it . To see the conveniance of less wire's with the mac tablet sliding into the imac , It would be just what I need . I just hope they don't make the mistake of the processor in the sammy Q1 . I'm almost converted to mac , vista is giving me the S@#*S! Bring on the future seeya's



While I can't find the origin of the strategy, the other big reason Apple announces products and then immediately sells them is so that existing products don't see a drop in sales before a new product is to be released. For example, if Apple announced the latest iPod 6 months in advance, sales of the pod would drop constantly up until the release. When the general public is kept in endless anticipation for the next big thing, sales don't drop that much, other then before Mac World (conveniently positioned just after Christmas), before WWDC and mid Septemeber, the usual time of year that Apple announces the latest iPods for the holiday masses.


Fahad Alam

I don't like the way Apple doesn't allow other companies to make their own Macs, so I think they'll always have a niche market. Having many companies producing variants of the Mac would be great for consumers. That's why Apple won't do it. They want their money more than the happiness of the consumer, no matter what they say about their altruistic business methods and overarching dream of making technology great for people.

I also really, REALLY hate the whole Mac culture. It's incredibly obnoxious to walk into a store and hear people fawning over a piece of plastic and silicon like it's a baby or something--and then addressing you like some piece of mud because you have a Tablet PC in your backpack. I also don't understand why people are so devoted to the brand. There have been times when Apple's screwed up, like the 90s, and the only reason they stayed afloat is because people religiously bought the same Apple product multiple times, no matter how crappy it was. I had a friend who bought three of the old Macs, then 2 Mac Pros, 2 Macbook Pros, and now he has two iPhones. He doesn't use the other copies, they're just there as relics of his favorite institution, Apple, Inc. He keeps them in a trailer somewhere.

I don't understand why people do that with Apple products. To me, it's like a cult or something. I don't need a cult, or some sort of business theology. I'm already religious, so the whole fawning aspect of the culture turns me off, especially when it's being manipulated by a business to make itself more money--not to better other people's situation. I won't buy a Mac as long as I live, because I feel uncomfortable with the whole fanatic culture that's such a big part of the brand.


Dan dorfman

Oh really? the behavior you just talked about is a carbon copy of the microsoft behavior; even though people saw the pricetag of vista, heard about how it was incompatible with 2 year old computers, and heard of all it's glitches and slow speed, they STILL BOUGHT IT! at least macs don't have euthanasia built in.



even if you win your still a retarded.

one its obvious only one person who posted actually knows what a monopoly is. and if you think its you. its probably not.

and two the reason that they don't allow others to make their product is simple it would cause the company to crash. because they have to charge more for developing the product. while the other company takes the design and sell it for less.

and this argument about the glossy screens if you don't like them find another product instead of complain on message boards.



I know this has nothing to do with this discussion but why do so many people have to drag special olympics into these things? I've seen it so many times and it's always the same juvenile uneducated comment "even if you win you're still..." Get away from your computer once in awhile, get outside and do something meaningful with your life. Go coach Special Olympic atheletes and have your eyes opened. (Bet most a lot of them are in better shape than you are)



It's because you still have a shitty PC you will never understand.



Great research!
Can you provide us with patent or application publication numbers for these inventions?



I like the new ideas but I'm sickened by the Glossy Screen road Apple is taking. It leaves me very little choice in what computer to choose. I'm hoping these new Mac Clones become more reliable so I have choices. Or better yet some attorney sues for a Monopoly for their Hardware and OS ties. I mean the bigger Apple gets and the more people that use OSX it will soon become a monopoly.



It is not illegal to operate or maintain a monoploy. It is only illegal to abuse a monopoly.

Foe example, Microsoft got into trouble for strongarming their hardware "partners" into excluding competitor software alongside their own.



You said you love the new ideas. But in stead of giving your opinion on them, you just bash on other apple stuff that isn't related to the subject.

And to answer to your enlightning statements:
You have the choice already: buy a mac pro or a mini and a display you prefer. But still, you would only need a non-glossy display when you're in the publishing business. For all of the other things you can do with your mac: the glossy screens are great (I admit: at first I wasn't convinced either).

I really can't grasp why you would favor a clone over the real thing. Would you also buy a Chinese "ifone" when it gets more reliable just because the iPhone is the only phone on the market that comes with OS X and could become a monopoly? At least buy one with a non-glossy screen so YOU would feel you have the best phone out there.

You'll have to wait for that monopoly to rise for at least a decade, which I think will never come. By then cloud computing will be the standard. Do you really think that a marketshare of about 7% in the US can "soon" become a monopoly. Give me a break. Even here Europe there are still people who never heard of apple or OS X yet. (yes, there still are such people!)



I agree with Raindogg regarding the glossy screens. I've tried to warm up to them, but honestly I hate them, not because they are merely glossy, but because there is a significant amount of glare and reflection on the screen in most environments that I personally find distracting from what is intended to be shown on the display, meaning hard to read and focus on the subject matter. Go into an Apple Store and notice all the things in the store being reflected onto the screens of the pretty iMacs. As far as Mac Mini / Mac Pro, I've heard arguments about this on many other blogs, the Mac Mini if pitifully underpowered, and the Mac Pro is overkill for most people, plain and simple. Apple either needs to offer Matte screen as an option on the iMac, or come up with a mini tower.



Apple's secrecy catches competitors unawares. When other companies blather about future products, their competitors start planning another way of doing the same thing, and everyone's version of the product comes out at the same time.

Apple's competitors have no advance notice. They can't begin to plan until Apple's product is out. They can't even begin to know what they should plan!

That means that by the time the competitor's product is in version 1, Apple has already moved to version 2. Apple's competition is always playing catch-up. Apple gets them to use all their resources to find alternative ways of imitating Apple so that they have no resources left for innovation.



The drawing of the Proto iMac looks strikingly similar to the realized G3 All-In-One, sans speakers and phone (the A-I-O did have a ZIP drive and was housed in a case that looks almost exactly like the one in the picture)



This was my first Mac in the UK. I cant remember the exact name but it Was a powerpc version around 1997.

The drive looking like a zip was the CD tray.. It didnt have the phone but it had those little speakers and it could swivel around on a base thingy..