Iterating on the keyboard
December 12, 2013 6:05 AM   Subscribe

I would pay cash by-god money for an ergo keyboard that isn't huge and puts the escape and modifier keys in a sane place. Moving them to the thumbs is a very interesting idea. Make it blootoof for my iPad (capable of pairing with three devices is preferable), please and thank you.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:18 AM on December 12, 2013

See, this would make a good kickstarter campaign.
posted by KGMoney at 6:48 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it's not vaporware, he says it's gonna at the end of the last post.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:51 AM on December 12, 2013

It was interesting reading about his successive keyboard designs.

It was also interesting to read about his trip to Shanghai and his experience in the hardware market.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:01 AM on December 12, 2013

Oh, man, that hardware street looked awesome! It's like what Radio Shack used to be, times a thousand.
posted by a snickering nuthatch at 7:12 AM on December 12, 2013

If it's not vaporware, he says it's gonna at the end of the last post.

Also at the beginning. One of the most engaging things about Jesse's keyboard project is how open he's been about development and production. (Disclosure: I know Jesse, and think he's a standup guy.)

Oh, man, that hardware street looked awesome! It's like what Radio Shack used to be, times a thousand.

The full set of Shanghai pictures is up on flickr, as is other neat stuff like a teardown of a Space-cadet keyboard.
posted by zamboni at 7:30 AM on December 12, 2013

Because if you build your own keyboard you can decide what to build into it, disregarding the accumulated mass of keyboard traditionalism and its hidebound demands.

Sort of like a Sapir-Whorf hypothesis for keyboards. What we type is shaped and influenced by the characters we have access to and how easy or difficult it is to type them. Imagine a keyboard with the keys mapped to the Latin Extended B character set and the standard alphabet buried in obscure multi-stroke functions. What might we type on such a keyboard?
posted by Naberius at 7:35 AM on December 12, 2013

Hi folks. Thanks for the kind words about my keyboards. I'm happy to take questions, though I may be a bit slow to reply, as this just showed up.
posted by obra at 8:50 AM on December 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

Oh man, he never heard of a key puller? I have pulled more keys than I care to remember, and get your damn mitts off my key puller, leave it right there on the work table where you found it.

I literally made my fortune in key pulling. My first serious tech job was around 1980 as an Apple tech. One of my most frequent jobs was fixing broken keyboards, I must have had 2 or 3 in my service bay every day. I could replace your dead keyswitch in under 15 minutes. Apple used about 5 different types of key switches, I had a box of each type. I would flip over your Apple, unscrew the bottom from the plastic case with my power screwdriver, pull the keyboard cable, and pop the keycap off. Two quick taps of a soldering iron and the solder sucker on the back of the circuit board, and it's loose. Pop the key out, determine what type it was, pop in the new key, two quick solder joints, reassemble it all and send it back to the customer. Key switch $2, minimum service charge $35 for 1/2 hour (very expensive at the time). Since I could do it in 15 minutes, we raked in money hand over fist. Most Apple dealers would not fix the individual switches, they'd swap out the whole keyboard, which cost big money. People came from all over to have me fix their keyswitches. This is the first time I realized you could actually make serious money at this computer crap. Hooray for keyboard bashing games and the A, S, D, and F keys.

But oh man the keyboards I have used over they years. I was surprised that I actually recognized the Space Cadet keyboard, since I worked around Symbolics systems. I while ago, I wrote a little reminiscence about some of the keyboards I have used over they years. Surprise conclusion: the best keyboard I have ever used: the Apple ///.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:59 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Huh? I've totally heard of keypullers. I have several within arm's reach.
posted by obra at 9:04 AM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

No big deal, you made a comment about discovering there was such a thing as a key puller in one of your articles. Apparently that was some time ago.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:14 AM on December 12, 2013

Obra: Before I start grilling you, I want to say that your mark 3 prototype keyboard is one of the most beautiful keyboards I've seen. As a millennial, I feel a very strong affinity for the cyberpunk, mechanical, fell-off-an-x-wing aesthetic, which I'm sure to someone of your generation might seem strange. I read your post showing the progression of keyboard from version to version, getting more and more excited. I hope that someday I can purchase a final product.

You've put a ton of time and work into designing a keyboard that works great for you, and it sounds like you are incredibly satisfied with those efforts. I'd be interested in hearing about what you did to make sure your design works great for your potential customer base, too?

I'm just throwing numbers out here but I'd guess your design would sell for about $200. That's a lot of money for me, and it's definitely something that I wouldn't shell out without having had some hands-on time with the device, as excited as I am about it.

Also, I'd be very interested to hear about how you have designed this keyboard to conquer other common keyboard issues, such as desk scratches, food falling inside of it, sticky keys, etc.
posted by rebent at 10:00 AM on December 12, 2013

Passed along to a buddy who's a real keyboard nerd. Me, I'll stick with my IBM Type M keyboard, no hard feelings.
posted by jepler at 2:32 PM on December 12, 2013

rebent - I've been forcing folks to test my creations as I've been building them. And, well, "customer base" is a strong word. I'm making the best keyboard I can, given my designs and constraints - if people like it and want to buy it, that's awesome. But I'd rather make the keyboard that I think is most right than make the keyboard I think is most marketable.

I'll admit that I don't intend to build special features into the keyboard to catch the slops if typists eat over their keyboards. That said, with cherry switches and removable keycaps, cleaning it won't be that big a deal.

I intend the production models to have very nice rubber feet that aren't likely to scratch a desk without serious effort on your part.

And I'll have you know, whippersnapper, that 30-somethings are just as into the cyberpunk aesthetic as 20-somethings.

I don't know that I'm going to have a great answer for letting folks get hands-on time with keyboards in advance of purchase. If I was doing this with someone else's money, it'd be a lot easier to arrange. I suppose my best advice will be to sucker one of your friends into buying one so you can try it ;)
posted by obra at 3:46 PM on December 12, 2013

rebent: I'm just throwing numbers out here but I'd guess your design would sell for about $200.

You're pretty much on with that. The Ergodox, a keyboard in the same vein (low production, Cherry switches, etc), starts at $200-$275 when it is available.

obra, any opinion on Alps-type switches (the kind that Apple used in their mechanical keyboards, which charlie don't surf talked about above)? Matias is selling their re-engineered version through Personally, I prefer them to Cherry.
posted by zsazsa at 4:58 PM on December 12, 2013

zsazsa: The alps switches are...ok. I don't love em.They're cheaper than cherry switches, but they're a pain in the neck to get keycaps for. One nice thing about Cherry switches is that there's a bit more switch variety with the same footprint and keycap.
posted by obra at 5:18 PM on December 12, 2013

How fascinating, thank you for your replies!
posted by rebent at 5:19 PM on December 12, 2013

Sigh, obra, your blog just ate my last comment. I guess you only have 10 minutes to type it in, then it says your time to edit expires. I'll try reposting.
posted by Ted Walther at 6:38 PM on December 12, 2013

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