Weird and Wacky Keyboards
In the world of computer keyboards, the commonly held standard for layout and design is based on the 101-key IBM Enhanced AT Keyboard (aka the "Model M", sometimes known as The World’s Greatest Keyboard). Keyboards following that standard have a QWERTY layout, a flat or slightly inclined rectangular shape, and keys situated (for the most part) where long-time computer users expect them. Nevertheless, even when computer makers try to adhere to that model, things can sometimes go horribly wrong.
Then there are ergonomic keyboards. For some people, typing on a standard QWERTY layout is too awkward and too hard to learn. Others find that using a standard keyboard causes debilitating pain in their arms and wrists. In response to such problems, inventors have created the 14 keyboards you're about to see here. People with repetitive stress injuries may see some of these keyboards as a godsend, but the rest of us are likely to have a different reaction: These things are just plain weird.
Manufacturer: Ergonomic-Interface Keyboard Systems
When it comes to weirdness, the SafeType inhabits a realm of its own. The motions used to manipulate this strange, ultra-ergonomic device suggest a bizarre underground tickling handshake used by Chicago bootleggers in the Roaring Twenties. Check out the side mirrors designed to get around the slight problem that while using this keyboard you can’t see what the hell you’re doing.
Billed as the "World's Best-Selling Vertical Keyboard," the $295 SafeType evidently towers above its competition. My own research corroborates the manufacturer's market-share claim: I couldn't find any other vertical keyboards.
Klingon Language Standard Keyboard
Manufacturer: ZF Electronics
This is it: the official keyboard of the Klingon Empire. All of the letters on this sleek black £44 (about $62) keyboard are rendered in Klingon script, though curiously the numeric keys on the input device exactly match the Arabic numerals familiar to Western Earthlings; this suggests either that pre-Contact Klingons had no concept of number, or that Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development applies with special force to mathematical developments. In any event, native Klingons will surely appreciate being able to type their work without having to worry about awkward transliteration problems: "You've not truly experienced my research paper, Professor Johnson, until you've read it in the original Klingon."
iGrip Ergonomic Keyboard & Trackball
Here we see a textbook example of runaway button proliferation. This handheld keyboard/trackball device has buttons for fingers you didn't even know you had. But fear not: The folks at Alphagrip are confident that you'll learn to type on the $99 iGrip Ergonomic Keyboard & Trackball in half the time it takes to learn to type on a QWERTY keyboard. Plus, it enables you to indulge in ultralazy typing while slouched back in your superplush man-devouring recliner.
New Standard Rainbow Keyboard
Manufacturer: New Standard Keyboards
Beyond the a-rainbow-just-threw-up-on-my-keyboard design aesthetic, the £39 ($55) New Standard Rainbow Model keyboard takes a painfully literal approach to keyboard redesign: Even little kids know their ABCs, so let's put the letters in alphabetical order. That does put A and I in exceptionally awkward spots, but hey, how often does anyone use those letters?
OrbiTouch Keyless Keyboard
Manufacturer: Blue Orb
If aliens (other than Klingons) used computers, they'd probably gravitate toward the $399 OrbiTouch Keyless Ergonomic Keyboard--if only to impress us: “God, they must be an advanced society if they’ve figured out how to type on that thing.” But maybe it really is ergonomic. After all, when was the last time you saw an alien life form wearing braces on its wrists?
According to the abKey Web site, the inventor of the $108 Revolution keyboard "discovered the alphabet's most common letters while watching the TV program Wheel of Fortune." Apparently U, which is only the 13th most common letter in most English usage, gets quite a workout on Wheel of Fortune: The Revolution awards it a huge round dedicated button near your left thumb. The letter A gets similar enormous-button treatment, making this perhaps the world's best keyboard for typing in Hawaiian (think "humuhumunukunukuapua'a").
Datahand Professional II
Manufacturer: Datahand Systems
I know what you're thinking, but no--the Datahand Professional II is neither a handy appliance designed for quick and easy amputation of your fingertips nor a digital bathroom scale for people with extremely small feet. It's just your average, completely incomprehensible $995 ergonomic data entry device. Move along.
The Combimouse is not yet a commercial product, but it may become one soon. It attempts to fill a gaping hole in the combination keyboard/mouse market--one foolishly overlooked by slow-moving industry dinosaurs like Microsoft and Logitech. In fact, research shows that consumers have long demanded a product that splits a traditional keyboard in half and combines the right half of that keyboard with a mouse, so that typing and pointing will finally become simple and effortless. Research also shows that I'm completely lying.
Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard
Manufacturer: i.Tech Dynamic
Why carry a keyboard around with you when you could instead activate this cool virtual keyboard? Well, maybe because jamming your fingers into a solid tabletop trying to press keys that aren’t really there doesn’t feel so great after a while. Or because the $150 Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard tends to be visible primarily in shady areas (or at night). But don't let these little shortcomings cause you to lose sight of two crucial considerations: It’s virtual, and it sports a totally awesome red laser.
Dual-Handed Ergonomic 3D Keyboard
Manufacturer: P.C.D. Maltron
For most manufacturers, labeling a keyboard “dual-handed” might seem superfluous, but not for Maltron, which also makes a single-handed model (wait for it). The basic engineering idea of the £375 ($525) dual-handed model seems to be, “What if your fingers fell into a well and couldn’t get back out?” Seems ergonomic to me.
Maltron Single-Handed Keyboard
Manufacturer: P.C.D. Maltron
For this right-handed model (£295, about $413), Maltron reduced the hand count by one, but made the well even deeper. The result: a keyboard that looks like a really nasty bunker on a Scottish golf course. If you’re lucky, this design will be ergonomic heaven. If not, you’ve destroyed only one hand and can try again with Maltron’s left-handed version.
Grippity1.0 BackTyping Keyboard
How do you know for sure that the key you're about to press is a K if your finger is covering the label? For people paralyzed by the ontological implications of Schrodinger's cat, the Grippity1.0 BackTyping Keyboard may (or may not) be a lifesaver. You hold the Grippity (which as yet is only a prototype) as if it were a game controller, and then type by pressing the backs of the keys. Should be great for typists whose output tends toward backtalk and back-handed compliments. But if you press backspace from the back, do you go forward?
USB Cooler Keyboard
"Dang these sweaty wrists! They keep slipping around the keyboard while I'm trying to type, causing me to dsf;ldkhffd souln cnwlju!
"What's that, you say? There's a new keyboard from Thanko Corporation that solves my problem? Hallelujah! I can type again."
If you've ever said these words, the Thanko USB Cooler Keyboard (available in Japan for about $62) is for you. Hence the exceptionally high demand for this helpful product.
The cult favorite Touchstream ST is a membrane keyboard with a twist: It accepts gestural multitouch input on its surfaces so that the user can initiate shortcuts and perform pointing maneuvers. Unfortunately, this device is no longer sold--Apple acquired FingerWorks and its patents in 2005. A few years later, Jobs & Co. released a curious little multitouch device called the iPhone. In that sense, the Touchstream lives on.