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Input Devices Hardware

The Optimus Mini Keyboard 282

Zugok writes "We all remember the Optimus Keyboard from last year. Now Art Lebedev and his team have designed the Optimus Mini Three keyboard. The 'Mini Three' builds on the idea of those extraneous keys on modern Logitech and Microsoft Keyboards but like the Optimus Keyboard utilises OLED technology for visual customisation of keys. This is not vapourware, pre-orders are being take now with a cut price until April 2nd. This is just a step closer to the Optimus Keyboard. They also have a mailing list for those who want to keep up with developments of the Optimus Keyboard. Happy salivating!" This is a far cry from the full keyboard, but it's still pretty nifty. Assuming it actually does ship.
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The Optimus Mini Keyboard

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  • by halivar ( 535827 ) <bfelger@gma i l . com> on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @09:57AM (#14615076)
    But is it functional? I wonder to myself, "what will I put on those keys?" Pretty much just things that normally are an Alt-Click away anyways. I don't expect the keyboard of being able to handle serious macros, or anything.
    • The demo on the site demonstrates it really well. The whole point is, it *is* extremely customisable and by the looks of things they will be releasing some form of SDK. I more see it as a stepping stone to when we can buy an array of 10 of these keys which would then be incredibly useful.
    • I wonder to myself, "what will I put on those keys?"
      Screen-caps of your favourite pr0n sites of course. What else?
    • "what will I put on those keys?"
      Ctrl, Alt and Delete ? ;)
      • I'm thinking. Their "cut/special" pre-order price for a three key keyboard is $100. For a standard 104 key keyboard, the price would then be $3466 if it's the OLED keys that drive the price.
        Granted, it's probably cheaper to produce a larger amount, but then again the complexity increases, and the number of production faults will increase, eating up that advantage. And remember that the $100 for three keys is a "cut" price.

        If they get the full size Optimus keyboard out the door, I predict it will not be a
    • I guess a good application would be a multi-lingual keyboard. A keyboard that would let me do standard QWERTY then at a press of a button the keyboard layout would change to Kana or Klingon or some other characters used in other language.
      • I guess a good application would be a multi-lingual keyboard.

        *ding* You are correct, sir!

        I have my home computer setup to switch between english and russian cyrillic. It's a real pain to have all those stickers on the keys. Not only do they fade and occasionally stick to you instead of the keyboard, but playing video games (such as Quake III) is a guaranteed way to shear the suckers right off. The result is that you end up with spotty coverage of the keyboard.

        Some people use a keyboard overlay (a piece of plastic that is molded to the shape of the keyboard), but those are much harder to come by, don't always fit your keyboard, and interfere with typing.

        Now with the Optimus, a switch from english to russian would result in the key glyphs themselves changing. No more worrying about stickers, just *BAM*, there you go. And if my father-in-law is over and wants to type in German for some reason (he's quite good with the language), he can switch the keyboard layout without having to hunt and peck for the keyboard layout.

        As a nice bonus, games can finally tell me what keys I'm supposed to press instead of going through the config screen and trying to memorize all the combinations. (Or worse, get out one of those stand-up cheatsheets. Like I have the desk real-esate for that!)
        • Say, are you perhaps one of those viral marketers I've been reading about on PA?
    • I wouldn't buy it to actually *press* the keys. I'd be more interested in programming the displays to show something useful. That would be pretty cool.
    • It really depends on how "scriptable" it is.
      I'd like it if it were smart enough to be able to...
      - Close any applications not on a list.
      - Start applications specified on a list.
      - Open specific files in these applications.
      It's be nice to be able to switch between different desktop configurations with this.

      Another nice idea might be for a family PC with 3 accounts; click the persons' face to switch to his/her account.

      But in all honesty, I can't think of any killer application, nor does
      • But in all honesty, I can't think of any killer application

        Wearable computing.

        Work out not just chording but also sequences of presses of individual keys, chords of keys, and rolling sequences upon the keys and you could have a very small interface on the back of your left hand or wrist upon which you type with your right, and it doubles as a display so if you get lost in the UI it can report its state.

        Think of Homer Simpson's dream invention from 2F14, but with a display.
    • I would like to be able to press a button and invert the mouse on FPS games

      Taking turns on an FPS and having to switch the mouse in between is a pain.

      Scriptable keys that did 'escape, down, down, down, enter, down, down, enter, escape, escape' would be useful for me.

      My Microsoft GameVoice can do it, and I guess there is already something else somewhere that does it. I've not even been arsed to look =)
    • I also wonder how obnoxious the finger grease may be. Fingerprints are annoying on an LCD. If they are visable on tiny screens you can press (which are known to have more bacteria/crud on them then the toilet seat), I can imagine it could deter from the beauty of the keyboard technology quite a bit.....
    • Some ideas:
      A screenshot of each of my virtual desktops (updated periodicaly), map the buton to switch to that desktop. Likewise, any of the buttons/icons/notifications that currently reside on my screen taking up valuable real estate. You could even dynamicaly map the button to a notification. Imagine an email comming in, the daemon grabs the next available button, displays the email notification image, waits for the user to touch it, opens the email client, removes the mapping. You could even have a so
  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @10:00AM (#14615100)
    Just don't do it on your new keyboard, [] they are already disgusting enough, thanks!
  • Hope their keyboards are better than their web servers! Even mirrordot didn't catch a good mirror of the images. bummer...
  • Not vapourware? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stevey ( 64018 )
    "This is not vapourware, pre-orders are being take now with a cut price until April 2nd"

    Sadly many projects which have never appeared have also taken pre-orderes.

    So this "justification" doesn't amount to very much. I'd love to have a look at the prices, but sadly the site is down so I can't.

    • Re:Not vapourware? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by RESPAWN ( 153636 ) <caldwell&tulanealumni,net> on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @10:04AM (#14615129) Homepage Journal
      I don't think it's uncommon for companies to rely on the pre-order funds to finish final development of a product. Sometimes they just don't get enough though, and they never release their product.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        They don't get your money until the thing ships. What pre-orders CAN do, is give them a somewhat accurate guage of demand, which can help them negotiate volume discounts with the component suppliers, and help them secure loans. But they don't get money from the pre-orders, they can't charge your credit card until the product ships, it's illegal.
        • by Richthofen80 ( 412488 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @10:39AM (#14615351) Homepage
          What kind of 'they can't charge your card until product ships' crap are you spewing. Video games stores take pre-orders every day. Sears and Tweeter charge you TODAY for the TV that's shipping next week. There's no law that says receipt of good or shipment of goods must take place before charging can.

          Now, if they fail to deliver the product EVER, that's a crime.
          • by Eivind Eklund ( 5161 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @10:55AM (#14615505) Journal
            I don't know about laws - I *do* know about agreements, though, as I've coded this stuff for customers. Credit card payments work as a two phase system. In phase 1, when the customer orders, you reserve the funds from the customer account. This "feels like" a charge - the money isn't available for your use any more.

            Then, you pack up and make the order ready for shipment. When you have the stuff assembled in a box and ready to ship to the customer, you "capture" the payment. This is when you actually get the money, and things can fail at this point too (e.g, if the card had been stolen.)

            Capturing the money before you're shipping the order is definately against the agreements used - I'm not sure if it is illegal or not.

            There's also some maximum amount of time you can keep the funds reserved - I think this vary by agreement, too.

            So, you don't get the money until you're shipping the order, unless you use a factoring company or similar. A factoring company (usually) lends you money against the right to collect on your bills, and cancels the debt as the bills are paid. They're often also collection agencies, and they're normally in the black, so they can grab tax credits for losses etc - thus making the bills more worth to them than to you.


            • Not really. The way it works is you request authorization the day of the sale for access for $x. The money is no longer available on the purchasers card. Then at COB (close of Business) the card companies send end of day results. The Transaction has now POSTED, and cannot be voided, but only returned. (which means, if you cancel a sale same day, you won't see it on your card, its as if the transaction never happened. If you cancel the next day, you will see two transactions, the original, and a credit trans
          • What kind of 'they can't charge your card until product ships' crap are you spewing.

            According to this FTC article [], "Many credit card issuers have policies against merchants charging a credit card account before shipment" and "By law, a merchant should ship your order within the time stated in its ads or over the phone. If the merchant doesn't promise a time, you can expect it to ship your order within 30 days."
    • $100 is the price
    • Re:Not vapourware? (Score:3, Informative)

      by masklinn ( 823351 )

      From the Art.Lebedev website:

      The keyboard is in production. The first lot is set to arrive on May 15.

      Retail price of Optimus mini three is $100 (subject to change after April 2).

      The keyboard will be available for pre-order this week.

      It should also be noted that Art.Lebedev is a well known art studio, and that it works and has worked with many world-class industries and corporations. Definitely not the kind of guys who'd bet the (well established) respectability of their name and studio with vaporware

    • At the bottom of the Optimus Mini page it reads,

      "The keyboard is in production. The first lot is set to arrive on May 15. Retail price of Optimus mini three is $100 (subject to change after April 2).
      The keyboard will be available for pre-order this week."

  • by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @10:04AM (#14615120)
    I know what I'm mapping my three keys to: CTRL, ALT, and DEL
    • I know what I'm mapping my three keys to: CTRL, ALT, and DEL

      I got to the site a day before it was Slashdotted (thank you, Digg) and that will be one of the possible combinations. There was also a "Any" key configuration where all of the keys literally switched to the word any. There was one where you could control iTunes and another one where you could control picture or PowerPoint slideshows (the keys actually showed mini previews of the next and previous pictures/slides). Really cool, but at $100 for 3 ke
      • but at $100 for 3 keys I'm not biting.

        If its $ 100 for 3 keys, just imagine what a 101 key keyboard would cost....

        $ 10,100 - Yikes...

        No wonder they're releasing this one first ;-)
  • by binaryDigit ( 557647 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @10:05AM (#14615135)
    I think that for personal use, this is pretty much nothing but eye-candy. However, I can see some pretty decent commercial uses (note not necessarily in it's current configuration). Keyboards that are able to adapt to the application their running in a kiosk environment (where the core qwerty keys remain fixed, but the others change as needed) for example. One BIG use would be ..... the keyboard as a display. Imagine one of these keyboards in a kiosk where it's actually displaying content as it treats the keys as a miniature multi-segmented display. It would be quite catchy and you could drive a significant bit of content through it. Picture the main interface display being the keyboard (say something simple like some type of ATM), with the standard display containing other information, or perhaps a "guide", or showing more details.
    • For the under-educated fast food worker, you could put pictures of burgers, fries, and shakes on the keys.

      Getting them to correctly make change, OTOH, is beyond what the technology in the keyboard can offer.

      Chip H.
      • In a clothes shop just after Christmas, I saw a large point-of-sale keyboard which had a numeric keypad with small monochrome LCD screens in the keys. As the sales person entered information, the text on the keys would change - I was immediately reminded of the Optimus keyboard.

        It didn't look particularly new, either - anyone else seen such things?
    • They're going to have to have a serious MTBF advance, or the 'keysaver' is going to have to be pretty aggressive. From the website: "Organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) in our screens last for 5000 hours of continuous use. The screen saving mode is designed to extend the keyboard's lifetime." Now, that's less than eight months of always-on lifespan. What is the lifespan in intermittent use? Is it still 5000 hours of 'on' time? In that case, the mention under the Optimus keyboard of graphical 'keysavers' wo
      • It could be tied into the screensaver itself, so that when you walk away for a long-enough period of time, it switches off. The drawback to this is that modern mice are so sensitive that a truck driving by outside could set it off, so an actual off button would be better. Actually, come to think of it, perhaps it should be an on button -- once it's been powered down by the screensaver, you have to press the on button (or actually hit a key) in order to bring it back up.
      • I thought that was pretty short, but I wonder if it is a half-life, where the display is half its brightness. I would think that at 50% use, the life would be 10,000 hours as OLED displays should be easy to quickly shut off and turn on. A 25% on cycle would mean 20,000. If you use this at a full time job and actually bother to shut off the computer so as to not waste power, then it would easily last three years without shutting off. It still raises the issue of color shifting, as OLED blue reputably die
  • Money (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wongn ( 777209 ) <nathan.random@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @10:05AM (#14615140) Homepage
    Well, news was spreading quickly through Digg and elsewhere hours before this story was posted.

    I don't know where you got that $300 figure from. If you're extrapolating it directly up, it'd be $4000; but Art Lebedev are still claiming that it will cost "Less than a decent mobile phone"; which would then give you $300. Did I just argue myself in circles? ^^
    But, for people interested in getting the full keyboard, I can't see any of them forking out an extra $100 for these 3 keys; which don't have the greatest of practical applications.
  • by Refried Beans ( 70083 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @10:20AM (#14615223) Homepage
    That's "Piece of History" pricing right there. It sounds like they need the cash in order to make it through to production of the full keyboard. So they took a prototype, sized it down to something they could afford to manufacture and finished the software they need to make it work. They can use this piece to test the market and work out any problems in their manufacturing process. Sounds like a really good move to me.
    • Agreed, while the Optimus seemed ludicrous, this manages to strike a decent balance between being expensive, pointless, cool, and high-tech: probably decent enough to slacken a few thousand wallets.
    • I especially love this bit:
      "This is not vapourware, pre-orders are being take now..."
      That's so perfect, that it's almost something you could chant! ;)
      • by harrkev ( 623093 )
        Things like this do happen! Look at this site: []

        I first saw this over two years ago. They accepted pre-orders a year ago. I was sufficiently interested to get in on the deal. I finally got my unit last week (my wife called it a "valentine's present" so I can't get my hands on it for another two weeks, though).

        The AlphaGrip is innovative, but not as technically challengin as the Optimus. But things like this do happen.

        But the Optimus looks cool. I hope they don't wait a year to
  • Picture (Score:5, Informative)

    by teslar ( 706653 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @10:24AM (#14615246)
    For those complaining about the site being down without a mirror of a picture.... a little googling does help []
  • by dada21 ( 163177 ) * <> on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @10:29AM (#14615285) Homepage Journal
    I use so many different keyboards over the year and I wish the industry had a different label for each layout design. Some have large backspace keys with small enter keys, others have tiny backspace keys with mammoth enter keys. I think I've seen 3 or 4 layouts over time, which is crazy considering that typing becomes more efficient if the keys are in the same place. I figure the best way to get manufacturers to conform a little better is to name the layouts, and once you have your preference, you'll tend to buying the ones you're familiar with. That way manufacturers can see what consumers want and don't want. I'm sure there is a market for different layouts, but it frustrates me when I can't recall what keyboard I am used to without actually buying a new one and then finding out a day later that I'm used to a different sized "any" key.
  • perhaps they need to remove the big graphics on that page?
    at first I thought it was a video load or something..
    then realized it was a display graphic of some girls (who are those girls?)

    seems they just restarted the server, don't think they quite know yet they are slashdotted.
  • 5000 hours? (Score:5, Informative)

    by aderusha ( 32235 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @10:40AM (#14615359) Homepage
    From the FAQ [], the expected lifetime of these displays is 5000 hours. That's a little over 200 days. Even with a "key saver", this severly impacts the usable lifetime of this device. I'm as excited about this keyboard as anybody else, but I think I may have to wait until people have had one on their desk for a year to see if I'm going to plunk down a significant amount of coin to buy one.
    • Re:5000 hours? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by JPRelph ( 519032 )
      That's 200 days if the keyboard is on 24 hours a day, chances are that you'd be looking at closer to 8 hours a day on average for even pretty heavy users. At that kind of rate you'd be looking at over 600 days and the chances are that 8 hours a day averaged over a year is still a bit high compared to most people.
    • A good point, well made.

      Didn't we have enough problems with dead pixels on things like the handheld consoles and LCD screens? Why would you want to run 101 (or however many) seperate screens, all of which could fail or degrade at any time just for an (extremely) expensive keyboard?

      I thought we'd got rid of screensavers when CRT's became burn-in immune but apparently not only do we have to use them again for things like digital projectors but also for LCD screens and now even our keyboards!
  • by stunt_penguin ( 906223 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @10:43AM (#14615380)
    The 3,5 and 7 keys, making this my optimus prime keyboard.

    I'm so sad.
  • not going to be able to host these for long, but since the site is slow as tar: [] []

  • I think this could be a really interesting way to optimize keyboard sizes.

    OK, with the given 3-key keyboard, one has up to 8 possible modes, with [0,0,0] being the default mode with which no action is assigned. With a 2-key chording configuration, one can generate 6 distinct modes: 0+1, 0+2, 1+0, 1+2, 2+0, 2+1. With 1-key chording configuration, one can generate only 3 distinct modes: 0, 1, 2. Three-key chording would provide the same result as two key chording (for obvious reasons.)

    Suppose this
  • by affinity ( 118397 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @10:49AM (#14615434) Homepage
    This seems a little slim to me. I'm not up on the expected lifetime of OLED tech but I hope it has a nifty sleep function. Because 5000 is just over 200 days of contiuous use. How many of us keep our computers running all the time....
    • Also, if it does have a nifty sleep function, how annoying would that be? You probably use these keys occasionally, so whenever you do, they're asleep, so you can't see the pictures...or will it hook into screensaver events or something?
  • by squoozer ( 730327 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @11:08AM (#14615587)

    fresh vapourware in the morning. Come on - this is a scam. If it isn't a scam than at a minimum it won't be as good as the pictures they are currently showing. The display will fail within a year, the keys will be heavy and nasty and the API will suck.

    OLED technology just isn't good enough for this to be viable yet. Maybe, if you were NASA, you could get this keyboard to work but then howmany of us have unlimited piles of cash? To anyone that does happen to have piles of cash to burn please send some my way - thanks.

  • by hattig ( 47930 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @11:30AM (#14615809) Journal
    Make a version with a long-life OLED colour (not 5000 hours because of the blue) monochrome display.

    Looking at my keyboard, woo, look, black on white. No reds, purples, greens ... well, that might be mouldy cake between the keys.

    I'm sure that monochrome would be cheaper for a start, require less bandwidth to update, and for keyboard uses, just as useful.

    Currently it is three pressable displays.

    Stick a 64x64 monochrome/greyscale OLED into a key-sized key, and make a keyboard from that. Leave the full colour version until the technology is better - both on the OLED side and on the keyboards with display side.
  • by Theovon ( 109752 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @11:34AM (#14615855)
    Hey, guys, April fools is in two months!

    In all seriousness, I'm curious what anyone would do with a keyboard that has only three keys on it. And who would buy it for $100?

    It might be useful for embedded applications, like some mall kiosk where you push buttons to get through a menu. But it's still a bit pricy and short on keys.
  • This interview with Artemy Lebedev by Primotech [] shows some rendered pictures I hadn't seen on other sites as well as a picture of what looks to be a prototype.
  • Isn't optimus a RadioShack brand name for audio equipment? Or at least it used to be.
  • The OLED mini-screens seem like a poor choice for this, given the fact that these will presumably be used as easily-changed labels, rather than dynamic minidisplay screens. If you only need to change them once in a while, wouldn't electronic ink displays be better suited to this task? Even LCD would be more appropriate, except that they would be a constant power draw.
  • I know it's verboten to bitch about this, but I submitted this story yesterday, before Zugok did, and it got rejected. I'm 0 and 7 for submissions thanks to these jerky editors. Anyway, old news, Digg had it yesterday morning and Art Lebedev emailed all the list subscribers yesterday afternoon as well.

    Seems like an interesting concept but like the Wankel engine in the 50's and 60's, the technology to make it work properly just isn't there yet. The measley lifetime of the OLEDs is laughable...I mean
  • Cool web page! The market quotes seem to be live data -- at least they're accurate for today.
  • by TonyZahn ( 534930 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @01:36PM (#14617324) Homepage
    The true programmer's keyboard only needs 3 keys: 1, 0, and backspace (and the old types will tell you you don't need the backspace).
  • by Vo0k ( 760020 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2006 @01:45PM (#14617401) Journal
    For those who bitch 3 keys are useless: These are 3 choices at a time, not 3 fixed choices all the time. You can create any menu-based user interface using it. Most have 4 keys ("up", "down", "OK/Enter", "Cancel/Leave" (usually found in cell phones). Still it can be done with 3 keys, if you give up "Cancel" and replace it with a menu position - My beeper had an interface like that, worked fine - or leave out "Up" and just cycle through the whole list with "Down" every time.

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