Apple patent envisions future MacBook keyboards with backlit keys that can dynamically display different symbols

A new patent application published this week by the US Patent and Trademark Office highlights Apple’s efforts to expand MacBook keyboard technology. The company is apparently advancing existing keyboard backlighting technology so that future keyboards can display different symbols depending on the context.

Currently, Apple’s MacBook keyboards have backlight technology that simply exists to make the keys visible in dark environments. The keys themselves use pre-printed labels indicating that they are static and cannot be changed and are potentially subject to wear and tear with prolonged use.

As seen by Apple obviously, the patent published this week presents Apple’s work to address these issues. The company envisions a keyboard where each key has perforations through the top and bottom layers. The backlight under the keyboard could intelligently illuminate each key to display different symbols and letters.

However, when the keyboard is activated, glyphs may appear for each of the keys on the keys due to light being emitted through the keys from under the top surfaces of the keys. The glyphs may appear to float due to light sources or individual screens placed on or below each of the keys. Thus, any light emitted from light sources or screens can be directed through the tops of the keys to generate glyphs, compared to conventional keyboards where light typically bleeds between adjacent keys or is visible between or below the keys.

The patent also envisions another scenario where the light source is an “array of LEDs, such as a display using micro-LED or OLED pixels”. It would be a more advanced implementation of a similar idea with additional controls, customization options, and overall flexibility.

The patent application explains:

In some embodiments, the light sources or displays may include an array of LEDs, such as a display using micro-LEDs or OLED pixels. The perforations in the keys can correspond in number to the screen’s pixels, so that, for example, each pixel on the screen can provide light for a single perforation. In this way, the screens/light sources can be controlled to generate glyphs that can be changed or adjusted between different shapes, letters, colors, symbols, animations, languages ​​and other functions.

“Using this construction, keyboard keys can be made with materials not typically used in conventional keyboard keys, such as metals, including aluminum,” explains Apple. “As a result, the keyboard keys may have top surfaces that match the appearance of the keyboard case surfaces surrounding the keys, which may also have metallic surfaces. »

“Using this construction, keyboard keys can be manufactured with materials not typically used in conventional keyboard keys, such as metals, including aluminum. Accordingly, the keyboard keys can have top surfaces that match the appearance of the keyboard body surfaces surrounding the keys, which can also have metallic surfaces.

Apple’s filing also includes images showing mockups of how it might work:

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As always with Apple’s patent applications, it’s important to remember that the company is constantly considering new technologies. Patent applications are filed regularly, and Apple has countless ideas that never see the light of day (often with good reason).

This patent application was filed on June 10, 2021 and published today. The invention is credited to Shravan Bharadwaj, Director of Product Design, who has worked at Apple for more than 10 years. His responsibilities include a variety of “new product operations” including concept design and prototyping.

What this Apple patent application describes is quite inventive. As we’ve learned from Apple’s previous attempts to change keyboard technologies, this is no easy task to undertake. If Apple were to implement something like this in a future MacBook, it would have to do so in a way that doesn’t disrupt the familiarity and reliability of existing keyboard designs.

What do you think of this idea? Would you like to see Apple implement something like this in the future? Let us know on our social networks.

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