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Apple shows interest in individually lit, multi-color keyboard backlights

Apple has shown interest in providing more advanced keyboard backlights on its notebook computers, allowing greater user interaction with individually lit keys and multiple colors.

A slew of patent applications revealed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week reveal Apple's interest in advancing its keyboard backlights. They note that current keyboards offer some feedback via light, such as when the "Caps Lock" key is enabled, but a more informative keyboard could be beneficial to users.

"Most conventional keyboards lack the ability to convey complex information to a user (such as, for example, more information than just whether the CAPS lock key is on)," the application reads. "And while some conventional keyboards may include backlit keys, conventional keyboards with backlighting do not offer the ability to dynamically control lighting schemes for each of the keys individually based on interaction from the user."

Lighting individual keys could help users identify available functions when holding a modifier key like "Command" or "Option." They could also be lighted to help users complete tasks in a specific application.

Apple's solution, described in a handful of new patent applications, would have more dynamic keyboard backlights, with individually illuminated keys and multiple colors. One application, titled "Keyboard with Increased Control of Backlit Keys," describes a MacBook that would have different illumination schemes based on which application is running.

The goal would be accomplished with individual LED lights located within each key on the keyboard. The notebook would then control those lights, allowing specific keys related to a task at hand to be illuminated or colored appropriately.

Another application, "White Point Adjustment for Multicolor Keyboard Backlight," describes a keyboard backlighting system that would rely on a light sensor included with the MacBook. The color of the keys on the notebook would be adjusted accordingly, making them easier to see in various lighting conditions.

"A controller is electrically coupled to the light source and the light sensor and configured to determine the intensity and color of light to which the light sensor is exposed," the application reads, "and dynamically adjust the output of the light source to match the determined intensity and color of light to which the light sensor is exposed."

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Yet another application deals with the user interface functions that would become possible only with individually lit keys with multiple colors. Entitled "User Interface Behaviors for Input Device with Individually Controlled Illuminated Input Elements," it describes adjusting the keyboard lighting based on what program is being used on the notebook, or to notify the user of something.

"The request for input device lighting from the program may be based on input selections received from the input device such as illuminating keys on a keyboard that are the next possible letters in a word being typed or keys associated with a pressed command key," that application reads.

The applications, published this week, were all filed with the USPTO in June of 2009.