Apple Wins a Patent for Reconfigurable Mac Keyboards that could quickly accommodate Gaming and Change of Languages
On the last granted patent day of 2020, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple a patent for a reconfigurable keyboard. This has been an ongoing patent theme of Apple's and in late November we covered one titled "Apple Wins Patent for an Adaptive Input Surface that could represent a Virtual Keyboard, Game or Music Controller & more."
In today's granted patent, Apple states in their background, that in order to help a user identify keys in a keyboard, keyboard keys are often provided with labels. The labels (which may sometimes be referred to as glyphs, symbols, key symbols, key labels, etc.), may be used to help a user identify keys. As an example, letter keys can be labeled with letters, number keys can be labeled with numbers, and function keys can be labeled with symbols representing mathematical operations or other functions.
It may be desirable to reconfigure keyboards dynamically to accommodate input for different languages, to temporarily convert a standard keyboard into a gaming keyboard in which keys correspond to particular in-game actions, or to otherwise modify the behavior associated with pressing the keys in the keyboard.
In this type of situation, it may also be desirable to provide a user with visual feedback indicating the current status of each key (e.g., whether the key corresponds to an alphanumeric character or to a gaming function, etc.). This can be accomplished by providing keys in a keyboard with dynamic labels.
The dynamic labels may be generated using dynamically reconfigurable label displaying components such as organic light-emitting diode displays with arrays of pixels, electrophoretic displays with arrays of pixels, or other pixel arrays (as examples). Configurations in which dynamic labels are presented using lower-resolution configurable output devices may also be used.
Apple's patent FIGS. 1 and 2 below illustrates that the patent applies to both future MacBooks and desktop keyboards; FIG. 3 illustrates a schematic diagram of the system.
Apple's patent FIG. 12 above is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative key with a dynamic key label and a coherent fiber bundle; FIG. 13 is a top view of an illustrative key label illuminated using optical fibers and an edge-mounted key display in accordance with an embodiment.
The user may, for example, desire to switch a keyboard between a first format (e.g., an English-language format) and a second format (e.g., a Greek-language format). In response to user input to switch the keyboard, control circuitry in an electronic device can adjust the key labels being displayed by the key displays from English letters to Greek letters, thereby switching the keyboard from the first format to the second format.
The key member may be formed from materials such as glass, ceramic, polymer, crystalline material such as sapphire, metal structures, and/or other materials. With one illustrative configuration, which is described herein as an example, some or all of the upper surface of each key 16K (e.g., a key member portion in each key 16K) may include a coherent fiber bundle that overlaps a key display in that key and that allows a viewer to clearly view a key label that is being displayed on that key display.
Apple's granted patent is greatly detailed. To dive deeper, review Apple's granted patent 10,877,570.