Microsoft's Adaptive Keyboard Puts a Screen Behind Your Keyboard

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Microsoft's Adaptive Keyboard resembles Art Lebedev Design's famous (and famously expensive) Optimus keyboard, which has a miniature OLED screen on each key. But unlike the Optimus keyboard, Microsoft's design uses a keyboard with transparent keycaps overlaid on a single LCD screen, providing the same effect: a keyboard that can show any layout you want, with the added bonus of a touchscreen section above the hard keys. Video after the jump!

Microsoft's approach seems much more cost effective, and actually maybe even more flexible than Lebedev's design, especially given the strip of touch panel exposed at the top. It's not clear if the whole thing is a touchscreen (which could explain how the keyboard portion works).

The demo video shows it in action, with the keys adapting to the context of the program it's being used with and changing when modifier keys are pressed. The top section is also shown as with useful controls (rather than just an extension of the main screen) on it, in this case a preview of the PowerPoint presentation being created.

All in all, it seems like a neat concept. Unfortunately, for the moment, it will remain that way—the only people getting their hands on it any time soon will be participants in the UIST Student Innovation Contest.

This seems like a cool piece of tech--but like Lebedev's Optimus, is this kind of improvement necessary or overkill? The arguments against devices like this go both ways: on the one hand, what's wrong with a standard keyboard once you memorize the hotkeys? And on the other, why bother with a keyboard at all when you can use a touchscreen that can change the layout to anything you can imagine, not just reskinning existing keys?

According to its blog, Microsoft's goal is to combine the flexibility of a touchscreen with the ergonomics of a hard keyboard in a desktop setting, which sounds like a lofty but worthwhile goal.

What do you think? Worthwhile goal, or dead-end technology? Would you use an Adaptive Keyboard if it was affordable? Sound off in the comments!

[Microsoft Hardware Blog via Gizmodo Australia]

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