Apple held its October 27 event and introduced the newly refreshed MacBook Pro line, largely as expected. In addition to new high-end MacOS notebooks that are thinner and lighter, the most important announcement was the new OLED Touch Bar that replaces the old-school function keys with a new app-specific touchscreen running on top of the keyboard.
Apple’s timing was a little unfortunate, as it had to follow Microsoft’s Windows 10 Creators Update event just the day before where Microsoft introduced the innovative Surface Studio AIO for creative professionals. And it turns out that Microsoft had already considered developing a very similar keyboard touchscreen concept of its own.
The video above demonstrates that Microsoft had created what it called an “Adaptive Keyboard” as part of a Student Innovation Contest at the User Interface Software and Technology (UIST) Symposium in 2010. The keyboards basic concept was very similar to Apple’s Touch Bar — an LED touch display sits above the keyboard and is modified in real time by applications to customize its functionality.
While Microsoft’s version is less refined than Apple’s, that’s to be expected for a prototype device. Even so, it’s an equally functional device that would offer precisely the same advantages. In fact, Microsoft’s Adaptive Keyboard is arguably even more functional, with a larger screen that’s capable of providing more capabilities.
One might ask why Microsoft never produced a shipping version of the device. The answer is relatively simple — Microsoft opted instead to implement the entire main display as one large customized touch input device. Today, most Windows 10 notebooks, and all 2-in-1s, offer at least the option of a touch screen, and Windows 10 itself is highly optimized for touch.
Apple may or may not have been aware of Microsoft’s Adaptive Keyboard, but no matter. They clearly see the benefit of such technology, and MacBook Pro users will be able to reap the benefits. Time will tell if Apple’s minimal approach or Microsoft’s full speed ahead strategy regarding touch input will win out in the market.