Home > Gadgets & Toys > The Keyboard of the Future?

The Keyboard of the Future?

July 17th, 2005

Every once in a while, a new product comes along that stands to break long-standing paradigms. The GUI (mouse, windows, menus, etc.) is perhaps the most significant example. Cameras going from film to digital is another big one. The kind of change that opens up new possibilities for a piece of equipment, allowing you to use it in a variety of new ways. One that will probably change a long-standing (almost 140 years) keyboard paradigm may be coming soon: the Optimus keyboard, from Russian designer Art Lebedev. The keyboard is designed so that every key is a stand-alone, miniature OLED display:



Instead of each key’s function being painted on simple plastic key caps, the function of each key is indicated by the display–which, of course, can change to whatever you want it to show. That means an instant keyboard switch, not just between languages and QWERTY-DVORAK layouts, but also to any controls that any application might require. Playing a game with keyboard controls, but having trouble remembering what key controls what function? It would all be visible, right there on the keys. Want to see all the key functions when you hold down the shift, alt or function keys? Want the key caps on your keyboard to reflect the font you’re using? Want to redesign the keyboard completely? This keyboard would allow for that. Below is an animated GIF made from images from the Optimus’ site, showing how the keys can change, in this case from English to game mode (for “Quake”) to Photoshop and cycling back through:


The OLED technology means that the keys emit light, so they require no backlight. From what I can gather, the keyboard is wireless, but I haven’t found out if it uses infrared ports, Bluetooth, or something else. Nor has it been specified whether it runs on disposable batteries, rechargeable batteries, or some other way of keeping the juice up, not how long the charge holds.


Though the keyboard is designed nicely and looks svelte, it is also looks pretty wide (an extended keyboard with extra keys on the left); you might not have the desktop space for it. Then there is the question of how the keyboard feels, an important point for many. And finally, there is the issue of durability: any key that sticks or blacks out permanently could screw up the whole keyboard. Will the keys be replaceable?

On the other hand, the makers are claiming that price will be between $200 to $300, a seeming bargain considering what you’re getting; specialty keyboards can already cost much more than that, and even standard wireless keyboards can cost up to $200. So despite the new functionality, the price (which may fall considerably over time) will not break the bank and relegate the new keyboard to the backwaters of super-expensive toys.

Some have claimed that this is not even a real device, even a prototype, but is rather a design presentation, a graphic rendering only. If that’s true, then they did a damn good job of it. Even if that claim is true and the product is only an imagining, I would think that it is revolutionary enough to spur production of the real thing. But the site claims that it could be out by next year, and a lot of people take this seriously. We’ll see.

One additional note: this also is another step in the direction of Star Trek technology, just like today’s cell phones imitate the communicators from the 60’s series. In the 80’s series Star Trek: The Next Generation, computer controls were portrayed as reprogrammable visual displays; you want to do something different at a work station, the keyboard would change for you. Hmm.

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  1. YouKnowWho
    July 18th, 2005 at 02:31 | #1

    Creating a little lcd display (e.g. 32×32) for each key could be VERY expensive.

  2. windy
    July 19th, 2005 at 02:26 | #2

    Looks flashy, and quite intriguing. This is one kb I think I could splurge on depending on all the limiting factors – battery life, comfortability, replacement part cost, etc. Thanks for posting about it. The Optimus is one item I’m going to keep an eye on.

  3. Karinka
    October 3rd, 2008 at 00:29 | #3

    Hack again?!

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