What inspired Apple's Touch Bar?

What inspired Apple's Touch Bar?

The news about Apple's latest product launch are so last month, and it was a bit of a let down for many people, particularly that the day before, Microsoft launched their new product lineup, far more exciting than the Apple Touch Bar (which, by the way, is the only thing people remember).

In fact, if I think about it, Microsoft might be what Apple was a few years ago - customers queuing for days for their events, everyone holding their breath. Well, it seems that hype has gone down for Apple, the wheels on the bus go round and round, as they say.

I am no fanboy. I've owned and used products from many producers, on both sides of the battle - PC or Mac - and although the latest Apple MacBook Pro looks nice and cool, and I am sure it's not a bad or slow machine, I was a bit 'meh'.

But what about the Touch Bar?

Well, the reason I'm writing this is because the very first moment I saw Apple's presentation of the new MacBook Pro with the 'Touch Bar', I could not help but think of another project that has been around for years. In fact, this might be so old, it could well pre-date the iPhone!

Optitact Color

I'm talking about a design studio based in Moscow, Russia, called Art Lebedev (from its founder Artemy Lebedev), who in 2007 showcased a cool new product they were working on and I was drooling over for a long time: The Optimus Maximus Keyboard (currently sold out).

The Optimus Maximus keyboard by Art Lebedev

This keyboard had a microchip and small LCD display on each key so you could customise its layout through a special configuration software. The function was primarily used to allow you to change the characters displayed on the keys, from Cyrillic, Greek, Georgian, Latin, etc. but you could program each key to run macros to reproduce some key sequence, and - the cool part I loved the most - change the image on the key to display an icon or whatever.

I don't know how many of these they sold, it appears to be sold out at the moment, but there's another similar project, called Optimus Popularis, designed in 2011 (which you can actually buy). This is a smaller keyboard and again, allows for customisation of each key and sports a display strip across the top, in-between the function keys and the number keys.

Optimus Popularis keyboard

Now, they don't say anything about this strip being touch screen like Apple's Touch Bar, but gasp! They designed ANOTHER one, released (or at least, planned for release) in 2008: The Optimus Tactus keyboard concept:

Optimus Tactus Keyboard

The studio designed the entire surface of this keyboard programmable to perform any function and display any images or symbols and have various modes you can switch to -- I think it would have behaved something like a big, wide, tablet.

There are certainly many other keyboards or input devices similar to this and I am not saying that Apple ripped off the idea for their Touch Bar from here, but the concept is not new. I'd be curious (and have not really had the time to do the research), to see how many patents Apple has registered for that thing - I'm sure quite a few! But this just shows that the number of ideas that are actually new, innovative, ground-breaking, revolutionary, is swiftly falling.