When the new version of MacBook Pro was unveiled by Apple last month, the Cupertino-based company ensured that it showcased how the introduction of its 'Touch Bar' makes the laptops more useful than before. The contextual nature of the Touch Bar means it adapts to the program currently being run by the user. It is not only visually impressive but one of the key factor distinguishes the new MacBook Pro from earlier versions. As it turns out, Microsoft was working on a similar technology since 1999 and decided to move away from it in 2009.
In 1999, Microsoft started working on the idea about a keyboard that displays the keys relevant and in context with the particular application being used by the user, as pointed out by Director of Research at Microsoft's Applied Sciences Group Steven Bathiche. The research team at the company explored the idea for almost a decade before putting it to rest in 2009, as per the company's project page.
The project page for the adaptive keyboard depicts the various conceptual models for keys that Microsoft's research team came up with before its end around seven years ago. In a demonstration video about a concept keyboard, a member of the research team showcases a touchscreen display above the keyboard that tries to extend the operating system's experience to the keyboard.
About why this technology never transitioned into a real product, Bathiche reasoned that Microsoft "did not make computers back then," in reply to Tom Warren from The Verge. Bathiche further pointed out that when Microsoft eventually did foray into this field, it decided to opt for touchscreen instead.
It would have been interesting to see how Microsoft would have performed if it launched a similar touch strip as Touch Bar on Surface Book but as we don't live in a world of ifs and buts, Apple can take the credit for bringing the technology into mainstream spotlight.