(Pocket-lint) - The US Patent and Trademark Office has granted Apple a patent for a “reconfigurable” keyboard for Macs. The keyboard features a small display for each physical key, rather than engraved labels, which would enable the keyboard to show different key characters.

The key labels, visible thanks to organic light-emitting diode displays with pixel arrays, would not be in high resolution, but they would be dynamic enough to show characters to suit a user's preference. Imagine having different layouts for different situations, for instance. You could have one for gaming or coding or video editing. The keyboard would show key characters based on whatever settings the user has programmed. 

The user may even switch to a different language keyboard, where the key labels displayed seamlessly toggle between English letters to Greek letters, for instance. The patent drawings reveal Apple is considering using this new technology in both MacBooks and standalone keyboards for Mac.

Here's how Apple describes its reconfigurable keyboard in the USPTO patent:

"An electronic device may have a reconfigurable keyboard. The keyboard may be formed from an array of keys coupled to a housing. Each key may have a movable key member and an associated key display. Control circuitry in the keyboard may direct the key displays to display dynamically adjustable key labels for the keys. Each key movable key member may be formed from a fiber optic plate. The fiber optic plate may be formed from a coherent fiber bundle with opposing first and second surfaces. The first surface may be adjacent to the key display and may receive key label images from the key display. The second surface may face outwardly towards a user and may receive key press input from the fingers of a user while presenting key label images for viewing.

The key displays can be configured dynamically based on user input or other input. For example, a user may provide an electronic device with key press input or other user input that directs control circuitry in the electronic device to reconfigure each of the key labels. 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."

You can see the patent drawings depicting Apple's reconfigurable keyboard in the gallery below:


Keep in mind that just because Apple files new patents with the USPTO doesn’t mean all its technologies will come to fruition or even be added to products. 

Writing by Maggie Tillman.