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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).