updated 12:20 pm EST, Thu January 3, 2008
A second Apple patent application, published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office, shows a new keyboard design that may change how some future Macs operate. Each key in the new layout has multiple OLED lights, which are tied to application-specific integrated circuits; the lights can form symbols specific to a command, and may in some cases be animated, across individual individual keys as well as whole groups. An unspecified form of tactile feedback may also be present.
The concept bears a resemblance to Art Lebedev's Optimus Maximus keyboard, which has yet to be released, but which also features dynamic OLED lights that respond to different program contexts. Were Apple to follow in Lebedev's tracks, users would, for instance, be able to hit keys specifically tailored to functions in Final Cut Pro, or switch between languages and see the results displayed in front of them. The current problem with Lebedev's keyboard is cost however, as it is on pre-order for $462. Apple would likely have to use a much cheaper implementation in a mass-marketed product.