A Really Customizable Keyboard

Innovation: Organic LED keyboard
Available: Summer 2006

Computer keyboards are like steering wheels: indispensable, easy to use, and just plain dull. Sure, you can trick them out with the latest ergonomic gel pads, but in the end, there’s nothing sexy about QWERTY. But Artemy Lebedev, director of Art. Lebedev Studio, a 165-employee design house in Moscow, has conceived of a new keyboard built from tiny screens that can display any image on any key. So good-bye, QWERTY. The Optimus keyboard, as it’s known, will allow each key to be customized to feature Chinese, Arabic, hieroglyphics, Adobe Photoshop icons, or hot keys for games. You will even be able to design your own keys, which raises the almost spiritual question: What would your ESC key look like? “Think of it as a desktop with icons,” says Lebedev. “You can change the way they look and assign different functions.”

Lebedev thought of the idea 15 years ago, but the evolution of inexpensive and efficient organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) has finally made the idea technologically feasible. OLEDs are brighter and more colorful than LCDs or plasma screens, and they don’t require a power-draining backlight. It’s still just a prototype, and some digerati wonder if Lebedev can design it so its cost is less than $200 when it’s available next summer. If so, that’s plenty of time to come up with designs (and uses) for all those dusty function keys.