Apple is apparently looking into ways to use keyboard backlighting for interesting and innovative purposes beyond illumination. At least, the company has filed a patent application with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to leverage keyboard illumination for user feedback.
In the patent, Apple notes that backlit keyboards are common, but adds that it’s unusual for keyboards to “offer the ability to dynamically control lighting schemes, such as color or tone, for each of the keys individually.”
But rather than just for aesthetic purposes, Apple theorizes that dynamically controlled keyboard backlighting back be used to “provide improved user experience.”
A system where users could individually color-code each key could allow for increased feedback to users, the patent goes on to say. That could hint at keys lighting up or changing to a different color when pressed.
Interestingly, Apple’s patent notes that the dynamic illumination could be used for physical devices like keyboards, mouses or control panels, and the tech could also be applied to touchscreen digital keyboards like those on an iOS device.
The patent also covers a range of other illumination-related uses of micro-LED light sources, including keyboards that are adjusted based on the ambient light that can be detected.
While some of those features are present on backlit MacBook keyboards, Apple doesn’t currently have any type of desktop Magic Keyboard with backlighting.
Backlit keyboards are common nowadays. And while Apple has never produced one, there’s also a slew of keyboards on the market with customizable RGB lighting.
Some of those RGB keyboards even allow users to individually assign colors to specific keys. But, just like mechanical keyboards, RGB keyboards aren’t really something that Apple has ever considered in the past.
Current Apple backlit keyboards typically just use a single white color. And the RGB keyboards on the market today are usually aimed at the gamer or Windows target market.
What this patent suggests, however, is that Apple may be considering adding colorful lighting to its future keyboards — whether standalone Magic Keyboards, built-in MacBook Pro keyboards, or onscreen iOS keyboards.
That enough would be cool, but Apple seems to have more pragmatic purposes in mind for RGB lighting.
At first glance, this appears to be related to Apple’s professional workflow design. The ability for users to individually color code keys could allow them to assign different colors to important key groups.
You’ve probably seen physical keyboard covers with color-coding for shortcut-intensive programs like Final Cut, Logic or the Adobe suite. This would be the less permanent and more customizable version of that.
And while it isn’t likely that the goal of the patent is purely aesthetic, there’s also a good chance that other users could leverage colorful backlighting to give their keyboards some pop.