Product reviews, deals and the latest tech news

A patent from Apple describes dynamic MacBook keys

It’s possible that Apple’s next innovation for its MacBooks will be keyboards with keys that dynamically change look and usefulness based on circumstances. For example, the A key may immediately morph into a 9 key.

A patent describing a keyboard with a configurable backlighting system capable of displaying any symbol on any key. Keys with “illuminable glyphs that are selectively visible or invisible to the naked human eye,” to be exact.

Presently, of course, Apple employs keyboards with fixed, unmodifiable labels that are printed in advance. Some keys, like those used to play various media files, have more than one purpose; these keys have several labels to make their intended usage obvious.

Variable characters

Keys with a matrix of individual pixels that can be switched on or off as needed are at the heart of the technology disclosed in the patent. These pixels are activated by the same highly tuned micro-LED or OLED components that Apple is familiar with from its device displays.

The final product would be “glyphs that are changeable or adjustable between different shapes, letters, colours, symbols, animations, languages, and other features,” allowing a single keyboard to serve multiple purposes (typing, for example, and offering shortcut controls for video editing, for example).

Although patent filings seldom foretell a final product or even its ultimate production, they do reveal the kinds of hardware improvements Apple is considering in the future.

More adaptability in the keyboard

Just a few days ago, rumours surfaced that Apple is developing a laptop with a single 20-inch folding display, with the keyboard on one side and the standard “panel” on the other.

The new patent application isn’t as spectacular, but it does make excellent logic. How convenient it would be if the keys on your keyboard were able to change their purpose based on what you were doing in macOS, such as the current programme you were using.

Plus, it would allow you to type in a number of various languages with relative ease. The ability to temporarily alter the keyboard layout to provide quick access to specialised features that are useful for scientific and mathematical work would be welcome as well.

Of course, doing all this would cost money, so perhaps Apple would have to start charging more for its computers. Just like every other patent, we’ll have to wait and see whether this one actually gets implemented, although it’s possible that it may be an extra at first.