Apple may have painted the Touch Bar as innovative, but the truth is that adaptive hardware has been around since 1999. Over fifteen years ago, Microsoft began testing various keyboards that changed depending on the content on the screen. Director of research Steven Bathiche spent years testing various forms of keyboards, some quite close to Apple's final design. The research was finalized in 2009, with Microsoft's touchscreen ‘Adaptive Keyboard.' In PowerPoint, the keyboard lets users search through relevant files, as well as print, change font and insert special characters. You could also quick launch applications, see recent contacts, and control music playback. In fact, the prototype went farther than Apple's, also changing the keys themselves. This has the advantage of letting user's directly see which shortcuts are available. Instead of f11 for full screen, for example, a maximize icon would display. The goal was to explore whether or not the features could enhance productivity by keeping the user's hands where they naturally rest.
Microsoft Has Been Working on a MacBook-like Touch Bar Device since 1999
A Microsoft research device shows a Touch Bar keyboard that also has adapting keys, access to recent contacts, music control and more.