Microsoft patent depicts a potential competitor to Apple's Touch Bar

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Earlier this year, Apple launched a refresh of its MacBook Pro laptop that featured an OLED Touch Bar in place of the traditional functional keys. Now, a patent application might have revealed that Microsoft has plans to field a similar product.

In July 2016, Microsoft applied for a patent on a “keyboard with input-sensitive display device,” according to a report from MS Power User. Attached images show a tablet-like screen being used in conjunction with a standard keyboard to allow different types of input beyond that of the Roman alphabet.

The device is intended to make text entry easier for users working with character-based and phonics-based languages, which are prevalent in Asia. The patent states that the error rate for this kind of text input on a standard QWERTY keyboard can be as high as 20 percent for the average individual, a figure that could perhaps be cut by implementing a peripheral of this kind.

There simply aren’t enough keys on a standard keyboard to represent each possible character in many such languages, so the process of typing is typically peppered with breaks to choose the desired option from an on-screen menu. Microsoft’s device could cut down on the time lost by users as they switch from keyboard to mouse and back again, as they could choose the right option with a simple tap of the touchscreen.

Like Apple’s Touch Bar, the peripheral could be implemented in a variety of different ways. Images attached to the application show the device being used to operate menus that would typically be displayed on the primary monitor.

Microsoft has been bullish about new accessories as of late, so it will be interesting to see what becomes of this project. On the one hand, it could be a specialty peripheral aimed squarely at users who work with non-Roman languages, but it could also be used as a direct competitor to the Touch Bar that’s sold as a separate peripheral.