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Microsoft could be working on a new kind of physical keyboard that will render different set of keys depending on the application that the user is working on. For example, a user who wants to play a two-player racing game does not need to use the W-A-S-D set of keys to navigate. Instead, these keys could dynamically change to display the various arrows on launching the gaming application. Similarly, the keys on the keyboard can also suitably change when the user launches a word processing document or a spreadsheet.
These innovations are described in a patent application filed by Microsoft in April last year which has been made public only today. In the application, Microsoft also notes that these keys shall be touch-sensitive in order to enable easy toggling between the various display alternatives. For instance, to change the display of a key from “q” to “Q”, the user may simply touch the key and gesture a slide-up (as shown in the picture below).
The patent application also describes the way such a keyboard will operate. The application notes,
“A light source 210 may be disposed within body 202 of adaptive input device 200. A light delivery system 212 may be positioned optically between light source 210 and a liquid crystal display 218 to deliver light produced by light source 210 to liquid crystal display 218. Light provided by light source 210 may be internally reflected within the optical waveguide. A reflective surface 214 may direct the light provided by light source 210, including the internally reflected light, through light exit surface 240 of the optical waveguide to a light input surface 242 of liquid crystal display 218.
The liquid crystal display 218 is configured to receive and dynamically modulate light produced by light source 210 to create a plurality of display images that are respectively projected onto the plurality of depressible keys, touch regions, or background areas (i.e., key images, touch images and/or background images). “
I’m not sure how popular such a keyboard shall be compared to the present day ones. Nevertheless, this is an interesting technology that is worth keeping track of. You can check out the USPTO documents by clicking here.
Update: Nick Eaton from SeattlePi points me to this link about Microsoft’s Adaptive Keyboard. Check out a video demo of this interesting product.