Like it or not, it seems that companies are beginning to rethink the venerable keyboard, especially when it comes to mobile devices, both laptops and tablets alike. Microsoft started it with the Surface covers and then Apple jumped on board with the cloth-like Smart Keyboard. Things came to a head with the Lenovo Yoga Book’s “Halo Keyboard”. Now it seems that Microsoft might be on the verge of yet another invention, one that combines a few of those ideas together into one e-ink keyboard cover.
The patent, which was filed back in September last year, talks about a device that has an emissive screen, like a regular tablet, and an electronic paper, a.k.a. e-paper a.k.a. e-ink, display, which can also double as a cover for the emissive screen. Taken apart, these are nothing really new. What is quite interesting is how they interact with each other.
The e-ink display functions almost like the Yoga Book’s keyboard, in that it can display static content like a keyboard. Where it differs, however, is that the static content isn’t something that’s permanently etched on the display. Like any other e-ink screen, it can change its contents. The implication here is that the e-ink screen can be used for touch input beyond just a keyboard. In other words, it addresses one of the complaints about the unchanging nature of the Yoga Book’s keyboard.
The patent doesn’t stop there, however. The emissive display, that is, the regular screen, is described to also have a section near the e-ink display part (in other words, near the keyboard) that can display controls that change depending on the context, like the app displayed on screen. If that description sounds familiar, that’s practically how the MacBook Pro Touch Bar works. The difference is that, in Microsoft’s patent, the “bar” is on the emissive side of the device, not directly above or part of the keyboard.
Of course, this is just a patent, so there’s no assurance we’ll ever see it in action. However, most of the technologies needed to implement it already exists, even a touch-sensitive e-paper display. If Microsoft does manage to pull it off, it could revive once more the dreams of the canceled Microsoft Courier device that recently resurfaced thanks to the Lenovo Yoga Book.