Apple explores keyboards with customizable screens on each key

Apple is researching keyboards with small displays on the keys to dynamically change the label on each key, according to a newly granted patent file.

macbook pro m1 keyboard

The filing, spotted by Apple Patent, is titled “Electronic Devices with Keys with Coherent Fiber Bundles” and was awarded to Apple by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on the last patent day of this year.

The patent sets out how each key on a keyboard can have an “associated key display” linked to “control paths in the keyboard” via “a coherent fiber bundle.” Apple proposes that each key be ‘formed from an optical fiber board’ with ‘opposite first and second surfaces’.

customizable keyboard patent keyboard

Although the patent stipulates that each key must contain a small screen to provide the label, of which any compatible pixel range will work, the most important technology proposed by Apple is OLED. The key can be made of materials such as glass, ceramic, metal or polymer, or even crystalline materials such as sapphire.

adaptive keyboard patent key

With this system, the entire keyboard can be ‘reconfigurable’ with labels that can be changed as needed. The patent emphasizes that keyboards can be reconfigured “for different languages, to temporarily convert a standard keyboard into a game keyboard in which keys correspond to specific actions in the game, or to change the behavior associated with pressing the change keys on the keyboard differently. “

There is also the suggestion that each key can provide ‘visual feedback’ to indicate the current status of each key, such as whether it corresponds to an uppercase or lowercase letter or an active ability to play.

Images contained in the patent indicate that the customizable keyboard can be used in both a laptop case and a separate keyboard for desktops.

customizable laptop cartridge laptop

It is important that this system does not interfere with the dome or scissor switches of physical keyboards. Unlike other Apple keyboard patents, such as one for a static glass keyboard or a full-size touchscreen panel, this statement is explicitly set out for a system that can be used with movable keys, so Apple can theoretically design its Magic Keyboard retain.

While patents do not necessarily prove what Apple intends to bring to market, they can provide an interesting insight into what the company is researching and developing. Given Apple’s interest in customizable keyboard displays through the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar, it does not seem unlikely that Apple will expand similar technologies for each key at some point in the future.