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History Of Mechanical Keyboards

Quotron 855

The Quotron 855 has a grid layout, which is unusual as far as keyboards go, but it was apparently quite popular in the stock trading world, where Quotron was a major player from the ‘60s to the ‘80s. It is also notable because of its film debut in the original Wall Street movie, and it’s visually quite different from most keyboards. It was awarded this patent and uses a tactile switch developed in 1966.

Tactility was likely important here for stock traders, so they could be certain that their press had an effect. Most keyboards, even decades after this development, had little to no tactility (that is, they were linear), leaving users guessing as to whether or not a key was really pressed. Even when feedback from keyboards was present, it was sometimes a byproduct of the click mechanism as opposed to a deliberate feature. This level of insight into the human experience and a desire to feel a button push back slightly when pressed is novel, and is in part responsible for the many different variations of mechanical switches we have today.

Ultrasonic I Plus

This keyboard is acoustic and operates entirely by vibration. This makes it more like a musical instrument than a workplace device. This is something that hasn’t been replicated in the keyboard market since 1982. The specific principle that allows it to work is called Time Difference Of Arrival (TDOA). This is like a form of echo-location to measure which key hits the acoustic transfer bar. Whenever a switch is pressed, a metal “slapper” strikes the bar, and transducers measure the sound wave produced, which differs based on the distance of the slapper from the transducer. Typing on the keyboard is delightfully clicky and pleasantly tactile.

Bezkont Klávesnice 262.3

This is a gorgeous Soviet-era keyboard from behind the Iron Curtain. Made in 1988, it’s a clone of the technology in the Space Cadet Keyboard. The chips for this keyboard were made by a Czech factory named “Tesla.” It has generally inferior materials to other keyboards of its time, but it’s still more durable and is generally perceived to be more pleasant to type on than most modern keyboards.

Model 01

The Model 01 by Keyboardio is a modern ergonomic keyboard of high distinction and quality. With design elements more similar to the glory days of computing, as opposed to the modern era of cheap and disposable plastic, the Model 01 is one of the first and most popular mechanical keyboards to succeed on Kickstarter. The keyswitches are made in the style of Alps switches, the original switch manufacturer Apple chose for its early keyboards. Of particular note is the Model 01’s custom molded keycaps, which were designed specifically to form-fit the human hand.

Datahand

The Datahand is a new and novel type of input device, created in the 1990s by Dale Retter. The design seeks to mold to the human hand and limit the amount of motion necessary to transfer information to a computer. These devices rose to prominence after being used in several famous science fiction movies, including Contact. They have not been in production for quite a while, and they regularly sell for over $1,000 on eBay.

HHKB

The Happy Hacking Keyboard (HHKB) that uses Topre switches in its Pro version was designed by Eiiti Wada, a notable Japanese computer scientist. It’s an early compact keyboard with a pioneering layout, and it’s considered one of the highest quality modern keyboards available. It was invented to address the need for a uniform keyboard that would work with the many different computer systems that were popping up in the 1970s and 1980s.

Touchstream

The Touchstream by FingerWorks is an entirely flat multitouch capacitive sensing keyboard that paved the way for touchscreen smartphone devices. The keyboard is split and makes heavy use of gestures, and it’s also pre-programmed with a huge variety of custom commands. FingerWorks was purchased by Apple in 2005 and abruptly stopped making keyboards of this sort thereafter. Now, they’re highly sought-after devices by collectors and RSI-plagued typists.

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  • nutjob2
    "The touchpad is a capacitive touchscreen, although it was designed in the 1980s."

    One end of this sentence contradicts the other end.
    Reply
  • adamovera
    18764445 said:
    "The touchpad is a capacitive touchscreen, although it was designed in the 1980s."
    One end of this sentence contradicts the other end.
    Good catch, it's not a "screen" at all.
    Reply
  • Rip Ripster
    Congrats! You have been featured at /r/MechanicalKeyboards:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/MechanicalKeyboards/comments/58v23g/history_of_mechanical_keyboards/
    Reply
  • dudmont
    I went screaming through the list looking for the model M, alas, you missed out on the best keyboard ever made. Doh!
    Reply
  • Parak
    The Model M is just a cheapened Model F mechanism which is mentioned in the article - as such, I'd argue that it's not as interesting or historically important in comparison.
    Reply
  • JohnnyLucky
    WOW!

    I purchased my very first computer In December 1984 at an IBM retail store in Atlanta, Georgia. It is 32 years later and I still use the same keyboard every day. The keyboard layout was identical to the IBM Model D Selectric typewriter. The Model D Selectric was the word's all time best selling typewriter. By copying the keyboard layout IBM made it easy to transition from typewriter to keyboard.

    When I bought the pc I chose the space saver version of the keyboard. There is no numeric pad. I thought I would not need it. I was right. The keyboard is a real beast. It weighs 8.5 pounds, is waterproof, and heavily shielded. The letters and symbols on the keys are not silk screened like the cheap keyboards. Instead, the keys have an inner black shell and an outer beige shell. Letters and symbols are laser cut on the beige outer shell exposing the black inner shell. The letters and symbols will never fade away. When typing there is a distinct metallic clicking sound. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

    32 YEARS AND STILL WORKING!

    50 YEARS OR BUST!
    Reply
  • JohnMD1022
    My 1986 Model M also works perfectly.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    I was glad to see Maltron and the Datahand.

    I've been using Kinesis contoured keyboards for years. The physical layout is probably among the best. Although their height usually requires the use of a keyboard tray. My chief complaints are that the PS2 version has issues missing key strokes/releases (maybe about 0.1%) and the ESC key is garbage. Also, sometimes the keyboard thinks one of the modifier keys (Shift or Alt) is being held down. And I've had 3 different units, so it's not just a bad one. That I've put up with these quirks for over 10 years is a testament to just how much I like the layout.

    I briefly used a foot switch for it. But, once I got out of the habit, I found it difficult to resume using.

    I've been meaning to upgrade to the USB-enabled Advantage. It looks like they have the same ESC key, but hopefully the electronics have been improved.

    https://www.kinesis-ergo.com/shop/advantage2/

    If anyone can recommend something similar, I'm receptive to suggestions. I simply cannot believe Maltrons are still so expensive. Just as the Kinesis contoured keyboards have always seemed to be around $300, Maltrons have always seemed to be north of $750.

    Update: Just noticed the Advantage2 upgraded the function keys (and presumably ESC).
    Cherry ML mechanical function keysLong-time Advantage users will rejoice to learn that we’ve replaced the mushy, rubber function keys with high-performance Cherry ML switches that offer the same low-force and tactile properties of the MX Brown.
    I guess it's finally time for me to upgrade.
    Reply
  • AndrewLekashman
    Excellent point @nutjob2! That line is an artifact from a previous round of editing, and the word touchscreen doesn't belong in the sentence.
    Reply
  • laststop311
    cherry mx switches are good enough nowadays. no need for these crazy expensive weird mechanical designs.
    Reply