One day, all keyboards will be made this way

· by Steve · Read in about 3 min · (556 Words)

This story is up to about a month old, but I only just heard it so if you’re similarly behind the curve, you can join me in a collective belated ‘oooh’. The Optimus Maximus keyboard, or Optimus 103 as it was previously known, is the kind of keyboard that’s both recklessly indulgent and gloriously over-technical at the same time. This baby will set back the average slightly insane customer a cool seven hundred quid when it’s finally released late this year  - although the actual release has been judged an unachievable fantasy many times in it’s aparantly long development history, with accusations of vapourware being common since no physical prototype has ever been seen, and the fact that it missed CeBIT didn’t help. I only knew about it because Edge put it on their cover this month and I wondered what the hell it was, and did some reading.

So why so expensive? Because every single one of the 114 keys on this keyboard contains a 32×32 OLED screen which can display any icon you like. At first it seems like a gimmick - ok, you can change the keyboard layout & language, and have proper game-specific icons when you’re playing your favourite 289-shortcut flight sim instead of using those crappy cardboard overlays. Nice, but I wouldn’t pay seven hundred quid for it when the ZBoard is considerably cheaper, if not anywhere near as techno-chic.

But then you start thinking about the possibilities of it being dynamic, it starts getting really interesting. I mean, not seven hundred quids worth of interesting, but interesting nonetheless. Let’s start simple - as you switch between your various applications like Visual Studio or Photoshop, the shortcut icons on the keys can change. You can also allocate common shortcuts with nice icons to those spare keys down the side. Then, as you press CTRL or ALT, or whatever, the keys that have functions on them with that control combination can change to show an icon of what it would do. All of a sudden you’ve got a completely dynamic, context-sensitive keyboard. From a usability perspective that really interests me a great deal. Part of the difficulty of getting productive with a new piece of software is learning all the key shortcuts, and if you switch around or put an app down for a while it can be awkward to get back into it - instant visual cues are all it would take to quickly pick things up.

Just think about putting that tech on a game controller too. No more having to explain to people what button is accelerate, fire etc - a picture could be right there, sensitive to the game you just booted up.

Now, clearly it’s gotta get an awful lot cheaper before it’s going to go anywhere, and Lebedev are just blazing a trail that most won’t follow for a pretty long time for fear of accelerated bankruptcy for both them and their customers, but it’s a hell of an idea. I want one, and I’m pretty sure anyone else reading this probably would too. Unfortunately the price means it’ll probably only end up on the desks of people too rich to appreciate the technical gimmickery to the full. If you want to fantasise though, you can read more about the development at the Optimus Project Blog.