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keyboard trends

While looking at laptops and stand-alone keyboards recently, I see there
are several trends happening. I'd be curious to know what people think
of these "features."

Number pads seem to be showing up on more laptops, even those with 15"
screens. I guess this is in part due to the wide aspect ratio screens.
Have we all turned into accountants? Do you use your number pad?

F-keys on laptops have had a second function to control the hardware,
such as changing the display brightness, when used with an Fn modifier
key. Newer HP laptops reverse the logic of the Fn modifier key, such
that you have to press the modifier to get the traditional F1-F12
function. I rarely use either mode of these keys, so this wouldn't
bother me, except I see they also put Insert into the F-key row, and I
use that all the time. I tried making use of the Insert key on several
demo laptops (of course running Windows) as part of the Shift-Insert
shortcut for paste, but couldn't get it to work with or without the Fn
modifier. (Have they removed that shortcut from Windows?)

Half height up/down keys. No doubt in an effort to save space and cost,
several manufacturers are making keyboards with the up/down keys
occupying the space of a single key. While Up/Down make be less used
than right/left, this seems like it could be a disadvantage.

By far the most visible trend in keyboards right now is "chiclet" keys
or more formally island-style keyboard. These keyboards get their name
from the Chiclet brand rectangular gum that came in grid packaging. A
traditional keyboard, as pictured in this closeup:

has keys with tapered sides and little space between the keys. Chiclet
keys have straight vertical sides, and a several millimeters of space
between each key.

Wikipedia covers it:

But they only talk about the historical versions. These types of
keyboards were common on inexpensive electronics, and usually had a
rubbery feel, and weren't known for being good for touch typing.

This article talks about the modern incarnation:

and has a good photo illustrating what they look like. The modern
version retains much of the aesthetics, but has key switches typical of
a laptop keyboard.

Apparently Sony resurrected this trend about 4 years ago, and a couple
of years ago Apple picked it up and popularized it. It has since spread
to many other laptop and desktop manufacturers.

No doubt this has been primarily driven by aesthetics (and I guess they
assume most of their buyers are too young to remember the junky
keyboards that looked like this in the 80's), but manufacturers claim
that the design makes typing less error prone. As you would expect, this
claim has been debated, and the issue gets muddied due to Apple's

I can see merit in the concept, and would be curious to see if it would
cut down on the number of times I misfire the caps lock key when I
strike the "A" key. I tried out one in a store, and it seemed fine, but
you can't really tell in 5 minutes. Anyone lived with one of these
keyboard for a while?

Some examples of products using this style of keyboard:

Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750

Apple Wireless Keyboard

Apple Keyboard MB869LL/A

Super Slim USB 2.0 Mini Keyboard

Genius LuxeMate i200

The Apple keyboards and the "Super Slim" (no identifiable manufacturer)
are all in the typical Mac white color and feature those half height
up/down keys I mentioned. There are reports of the Apple keyboards being
used effectively on UNIX systems, but the layout seems far from optimal.
The "Super Slim" substitutes Windows keys, but otherwise is much the same.

The Genius LuxeMate i200, better pictured here:

is also an Apple keyboard knockoff, but in black, and with a more UNIX
friendly design. It appears to have the HP-style inverted function keys,
and unfortunately insert and delete require pressing a modifier. Perhaps
key remapping can easily fix that. It also has a pseudo number pad
overlaid on the right half of the main keyboard, much like the compact
IBM M-series keyboards have (had).

Not sure how well a $20 keyboard will hold up, but I tried one at Micro
Center and it seemed decent. (I would have bought one, but all the stock
they had had been opened and was missing documentation and packaging.)


Tom Metro
Venture Logic, Newton, MA, USA
"Enterprise solutions through open source."
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