The US Patent and Trademark Registration Office today released a new Apple patent: the Any-key.
On today’s keyboards, the legend is simply pushed onto the buttons: the character you see written on the key also appears when you press the key. At least that is the case if your keyboard settings are correct. Over time, however, that legend can begin to fade: if you use a keyboard for years, for example, there may be nothing on the E key. Apple now believes it has found a solution for this.
The solution is not, as with many other brands, to use ‘double shot’ keycaps that do not fade. Those keys are engraved on both sides, so the legend doesn’t fade. An additional advantage is that the LED lights that are built into many keyboards can also shine through the buttons. That way the legends on the keys can also light up.
However, Apple wants to give its new keyboards a more premium feel and seems to want to get rid of plastic keys. The keyboard keys that Apple patents therefore consist of other materials, such as aluminum. To dig aluminum keys, however, that is not very practical. Apple has therefore invented a brand new way to make the characters appear on your keyboard.
The ‘Any key’ that Apple proposes is the button you have to press when a video game asks: “Press any key”. Apple’s Any key can change into another key in an instant. Apple’s new technology can adapt itself to the wishes of the user. Each key has a number of micro-LED or OLED pixels built-in. Those lights should serve to project the legend of the key.
It is the first time that a similar keyboard is actually made. Other keyboards whose buttons can be adjusted are often digital and are located below a touchscreen. Not with Apple, which wants to use real keys for the new input device.
The technology could use many applications. For example, keyboard shortcuts could be indicated on the keyboard. When pressing the command key, the legends on the other keys could be adjusted to reflect the action. But also changing layout suddenly becomes possible: switching from AZERTY to QWERTY or QWERTZ can be done at the touch of a button. You don’t have to swap buttons anymore. Or would you like to try out the Dvorak layout, but don’t want to buy a new keyboard? With Apple’s ‘Any key’ it could well be possible in the future.
Apple has filed a patent for this technology, but that does not mean that we will actually see it being used. Whether Apple will provide its MacBooks and keyboards with new developments, that remains the question for the time being.