For those of you quick jumping to conclusions without reading the whole post, no, this isn’t the Zune Phone. It might however lead to features for the Zune revision 2.0. I’m sure the Zune guys thank you for thinking about them.
A bunch of new patent applications by Microsoft were published today like they do at the start of every week, and one of those was an application for “color and context-adaptable hardware button“. Now the title would suggest it isn’t exactly rocket-science stuff, but nevertheless still interesting – one might say a simple yet practical idea. So I decided to check it out anyway. It was originally filed in 2005, so not exactly hot out of the oven, presumably stale or even moldy. Lo and behold, pictures (or what some may call poor photocopy scans) appeared of an unidentifiable yet intriguing portable media device. To say the least, much more interesting than the buttons.
So first let’s get the color and context-adaptable buttons out of the way. The idea is extremely simple. The D-Pad as most gamers are aware of is a directional pad with at least four possible inputs, up to five in some cases – left, right, top, bottom, and maybe center. This however was not always so intuitive as they merely indicate direction.
What this patent suggests is that if you place a electronic ink display (214) on top of the D-Pad (218), together with a cover (212) and lights (216), you can create an input mechanism with changeable icons, animation and text on each of the four/five buttons.
Think of it as a D-Pad like the keys on an Optimus Maximus keyboard. Right, so fancy buttons. Moving on. If the patent office wasn’t so outdated with their 2-bit photocopying and archiving technologies, we might have had some really high-quality color models here. Unfortunately, they’re still using 60’s technology so you’re going to have to live with these barely-visible images.