We're all used to navigating our personal computers using our keyboards. And we might think that they don't vary all that much and aren't all that exciting. Well, we'd be wrong. The tale of computer keyboards is a long and varied one. And the computer keyboards that we have today aren't so much because of their supreme ergonomics, but more a historical accident.
A standard computer keyboard has about 110 keys. And the way that these keys are arranged determines the name of the keyboard. Most of us use QWERTY keyboards, so called because of the layout of keys from the top left across. But you can also get AZERTY, HCESAR, and QWERTZ. In fact, you can customise your personal keyboard in any configuration you like. Although you might want to swap around the key facias to match.
Computer keyboards don't just vary according to key layout. They also vary according to their purpose.
Back in the 1990s, somebody finally woke up to the idea that keyboards weren't all that good on office workers' fingers and wrists. People were coming down with repetitive strain injuries and other problems just from typing. That gave manufacturers an idea. Why not design keyboards to be ergonomic, like other household items? They got to work and produced the ergonomic keyboards we see today. Usually, these keyboards are split into two halves, one for the left hand, one for the right. And the often come with a spur at the bottom to support the wrist.
It only took a decade from the mass adoption of the PC for multimedia PCs to arrive. Amateurs all over the world demanded the digital tools to edit videos and photos from the comfort of their own home, and the market provided.
With that market came an increased demand for keyboards with extra media functions. The multimedia keyboard was born. It came with all the standard keys, plus a few extra like play, pause and rewind. Perhaps a volume control, and other functions like an auto-launch media player button.
The membrane keyboard is fundamentally different from mechanical keyboards. The keys don't depress as such. Rather, underneath the membrane film are little pressure sensitive pads. These activate and then send a signal to the computer.
Membrane keyboards find themselves being employed in industrial applications. They tend to be easily customised and durable.
When gaming keyboards were first released, many saw them as a marketing gimmick. But the demands of gamers have proved the cynics wrong. The market for gaming keyboards is large and still going strong.
Gaming keyboards tend to be focused on both quality and customisation. Gamers demand quality, just because of the sheer amount of hammering their keyboards take over their lifetime. But they're also looking, in most cases, for a certain "feel" to the keystroke. Each gamer is different regarding what they want and what feels right to them.
Players also want the option to customise the colour of their keys. We see an explosion in programmable RGB keyboards as a result.