Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Bad Apple

Remember when computers had proper keyboards?
Like this one on an ancient Appple ][?

It sure is not a work of art (like the new one, below), but at least a person with average size fingers could actually type on it, and efficiently.

I am not even going to go to the most recent me-too abominations like the one on the Acer netbook I recently returned, partly because the keyboard was hopeless (the other part was that Windows 7 Home Edition is such an undescribable horrible pile of shit that it's hard to believe).

Amazingly, everyone seems to have not only resigned themselves to this new fad, but many are also actively encouraging it. And by that I mean all the Apple fanbois who extol the virtues of their beloved design. Yes, yes, yes! It is magical and beautiful to behold. Just don't tell me it's also magically beautiful  to type on effectively!

Of course, being quality obsessed as they are in Apple, their incarnation sure is the best of the lot to type on. and not just look at. But best of the same less-than-useful lot has never before been good enough. Only now, when everyone seems to think that looking like Apple will bring instant success (it won't - of course) we seem to have completely lost the sight of ergonomics.

Repeat after me: One cannot type effectively on a chicklet style keyboard.

Think about it. Chicklet style keyboards are not a technological marvel only available to twenty first century rich people. If it were a good style of keyboard to type on it would have been used in all sorts of keyboards of the previous century. Typing pools of ye olde corporations would have had electric typewriters with chicklet keyboards. Mainframe computer terminals would have them. But they didn't. And they still don't.

And that's for a very good reason: efficient touch typing is not possible on a chicklet keyboard. I mean, a modern Apple style keyboard is essentially a touch screen with dimples. And I don't see anyone writing the great American novel on a touch screen.

If you haven't already noticed I'll now tell you one of the main reasons these keyboards are crap. Have a look at the two photos at the top of this post. What is the effective key distance in each? See how on the Apple ][ keyboard the keys taper off towards the top? Yes, their top surface area is smaller then on the other keyboard, but the effective distance between the key tops is at least doubled. This means much less chance of mishitting the adjacent key. On top of that - and on top of every key of the old keyboards - there is a recess, a nice little valley to keep your fingertip from slipping down the side and hitting the adjacent key. No such thing on modern keyboards. Flat as a pancake with barely more than a millimetre between the keys.

So, it's no wonder that ever since I had to replace my old trusty Acer 7720G and Lenovo ThinkPad X61s with a Lenovo G770 and HP EliteBook 8440p, respectively, my typing productivity has plummeted. At times it even borders on abysmal. And these two laptops actually have better keyboards than most others I've seen. Lenovo is a black version of the Apple one above, and the HP has straight lined cutouts on every key making the effective clearance reasonable. Unfortunately, the key tops are still flat so the fingers do slip and hit adjacent keys.

I dread the time when Apple decides that the next word in design is getting rid of keyboards altogether and replaces them with touchscreen slabs for us to slip and slide our fingers on. Oh, what a sad, sad day that will be...