Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

David Zax

A View from David Zax

Would You Buy a “Dynamic” Keyboard?

Envisioning an e-ink keyboard that changes with your whims.

  • February 1, 2013

When you look at your keyboard, do you ever feel that it’s just a little too… static?

Me either, but I’m still intrigued by this concept from designers Maxim Mezentsev & Aleksander Suhih (presented at the site Yanko Design, then spotted by Gizmodo). Basically, it’s a keyboard whose keys are themselves screens–e-ink screens, specifically. It could be a boon for bilingual people everywhere.

Mezentsev and Suhih’s concept is just that for now–a concept. But believe it or not, something like this has already been done before. I have a longstanding interest in keyboard innovation (see “In Search of the Perfect Keyboard”), but not even I was aware of the fancy keyboard dreamed up by Artemy Lebedev and his studio.

Years back, Art Lebedev created a keyboard called Optimus, which has been made in a few varieties. The Optimus Maximus, for instance, on top of sounding like a Transformer, itself can transform into a keyboard to suit any language–“Cyrillic, Ancient Greek, Georgian, Arabic, Quenya, hiragana, etc….and so on into infinity.” The gizmo features 113 OLED displays, with a frame rate of 10 frames per second.

To reduce wear and tear, the screens themselves are embedded within the key structure, so that you’re only pressing on a key’s transparent cap. Software called the Optimus Configurator helps you layout your trippy keyboard to your liking.

Clicking through the Art Lebedev site induces a sort of giddiness. The bi- and trilingual will of course benefit from such a device, but so will video editors, designers, or any users of specialized software who aren’t so good at memorizing keyboard shortcuts. One image on the site presents a suite of ten keys off to the left, featuring the icons of various applications or services: Gmail, Firefox, YouTube, MS Word. You can have one key show you the weather. You can have another one display words and their definitions.

You begin to realize that when your keyboard is also a programmable screen–or a series of 113 of them–that your keyboard becomes something like the homescreen of your smartphone, or the desktop of your computer. It becomes a kind of command center, or dashboard, in a way only limited by your imagination.

The Maximus model, which launched in 2007, appears to be currently unavailable, per Art Lebedev’s site, but you can order a newer, similar model, the Optimus Popularis, released December of 2011. It’s a little more compact than the original Optimus offering, and uses LCD rather than OLED for the keys displays. It will run you $1,086, though, so it’s not for the dilettante. Before you shell out that kind of dough, you’d better have a compelling reason to switch from QWERTY to the not-yet-popularized alternative, Bowie-Ear-Smiley.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.