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Apple patents ‘reconfigurable’ Mac keyboard with small display for each key

Last month, Apple patented a new version of the Touch Bar with built-in Force Touch technology. Now, the US Patent & Trademark Office has granted Apple a patent for a “reconfigurable” Mac keyboard that is built with a small display for each key, allowing the keyboard to show different characters according to the user’s preferences.

Although the idea may sound like what the Touch Bar currently does, this new keyboard would work in a different way. The physical keys would still be there, but the patent shows that the keys on this new keyboard contain a super small display for each key instead of regular engraved labels.

As pointed out by Patently Apple, the patent reveals a keyboard with dynamic labels that are generated by organic light-emitting diode displays with pixel arrays. These displays are not expected to have high resolution or other fancy specifications, as they should be focused on showing basic characters.

This would allow users to set up different keyboard layouts that also change key labels — such as a specific layout for games, programming, or video editing. Apple could also create a single keyboard model to be used worldwide as the keys of this new keyboard would be able to show different characters based on users’ settings.

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 patent illustrations reveal that Apple considers using this new technology for both the built-in keyboards found in MacBooks and the standalone keyboards built for Mac desktops, such as iMac, Mac mini, and Mac Pro.

Keep in mind that Apple often registers new patents, so this doesn’t necessarily mean that these features or technologies will be added to a real product in the future. However, these specific patents are an indication that the company is at least working on some new things to improve its physical keyboards — which have gone through a lot in recent years.

Would you be interested in a new keyboard with reconfigurable keys for your Mac? Let us know in the comments below.

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Avatar for Filipe Espósito Filipe Espósito

Filipe Espósito is a Brazilian tech Journalist who started covering Apple news on iHelp BR with some exclusive scoops — including the reveal of the new Apple Watch Series 5 models in titanium and ceramic. He joined 9to5Mac to share even more tech news around the world.