The human Interface Keyboard

When we have a decent typing keyboard that we are used to we tend to simply get on with our computer work. Spend some time on a lousy keyboard and you’ll understand why professionals can get fussy about the mechanism. What we are used is part of the equation, but when you are using a keyboard for most of your waking hours it makes sense to invest in something that really works to your advantage.

THE LOUSY OPTIONS

A bad keyboard can be enough to ruin good computer product, or at least be part of the excuse when it fails. Membrane keyboards were the bane of early computers that tried to cut costs. They looked cheap and gave no ‘physical feedback’, no click when the keys were pressed. For some reason people don’t like this when typing, and never really get used to it. The fact that typing speed had to be slowed down to prevent letters from being recorded twice was the last straw for some individuals. The Sinclair ZX80 was criticized for its early membrane keyboard.

A variation on this is the Chiclet keyboard, which adds plastic keys over the membrane system. It is an improvement, but some were better than others. The IBM PCjr is thought to have suffered from using this particular keyboard. After a lot of media promise the keyboard looked and responded poorly on shop display models, so nobody bought the device. Sales improved when IBM replaced the keyboard for free, so it wasn’t a complete disaster.

WHAT LONG TERM USERS PREFER

The physical feedback, the satisfying click seems to be important for typing. This doesn’t seem to be just a hangover from the days of manual typewriters; individuals born long after the golden age of typewriters still prefer keyboards with a solid click. Add to this the fact that clicking keys usually means much longer lasting mechanical keys and you’ll understand that this type of keyboard is preferred whenever possible.

Layout preference with a keyboard is a mixture of taste and ergonomics. If you find you have cramped hands after a days typing it might be because your present keyboard is forcing your hands and arms into unnatural positions. Sometimes this can be solved with raising or lowering the desk of keyboard height; sometime you need an odd looking keyboard to get a good working position for your hands. Unfortunately, this is not something you can discover with short term use; and if you are used to a regular keyboard the ergonomically models actually feel bad at first; people tend to go back to things they are familiar with, even if they don’t really work out for them. In the end you’ll have to read a lot of reviews, and spend some time adapting to a new keyboard layout, but this is preferable to long term damage to your fingers.

OTHER ISSUE TO CONSIDER

  • Backlit keys, when typing in the dark. Experienced typists pride themselves on not having to look at the keys.
  • USB connection to other devices
  • Washability, if you are prone to crumbs or spilling coffee.
  • Number Keypad- some people use these, some do not. A keyboard is much smaller without a keypad.
  • Just looking cool, as it encourages you to work, or at least enjoy is a little more.

CONNECTIVITY

This tends to be a decision up front. Wireless is pretty common these days, though a USB cable is not really much of a hassle if the device isn’t often moved. The only slight disadvantage is some new batteries once or twice a year, which cost little. Occasionally a 2.4 GHz keyboard will interfere with a TV wireless transmitter, but this hardly ever comes up.

Portable devices do make some compromises with their keyboards. It is unwieldy to carry a large keyboard on a pocket sized device, so a projected alternative is used. As these are not usually our main computer, but rather our terminal away from home, they are a short term inconvenience we put up with for the legitimate convenience of having a portable computing device.

Apple and PC keyboards have different layouts. Check this factor before anything else.