Grid keyboards

Let’s imagine you wanted to align the keys on your keyboard into a grid. How would you decide how to line them up? There appear to be two approaches:

  1. ‘Nearest match’, where each key is assigned to the closest grid cell, like this Crayola keyboard:
    Crayola keyboard
  2. ‘De-staggering’, where you imagine the keyboard as a series of left-leaning columns of keys and then straighten it, like the TypeMatrix keyboards:
    TypeMatrix 2030 keyboard detail

As you can see, this results in the bottom row of alphas being differently offset, depending on your approach. Option 1 leaves the keys closest to where you expect to find them (W and Z are nearly lined up already on a standard layout, so the only significant movement is in the home row). Option 2 leaves the keys arguably better-lined-up for traditional touch-typing, though:

qwerty touch typing fingering
Standard qwerty fingering (image from Wikipedia/KTouch)

In the finger-memory of a traditional typist, there’s already a keyboard grid: The left-most column in the example above extends from 1 down to Z.

But nobody’s really making grid keyboards apart from crazy ones like the above, right? Not full-size keyboards, anyway. But mobile devices (where touch-typing isn’t practical anyway) seem to be really into the idea:

Palm (or HandSpring, I guess, since it introduced the keyboard) went with option 1:

Palm Pre keyboard
Palm Pre (image source)

Meanwhile, Nokia seems to be hedging its bets (both of these devices are from 2009):

Nokia N97 keyboard
Nokia N97 (image source)

Nokia N900 keyboard
Nokia N900 (image source)

The rumoured Motorola Sholes Android phone (named after the inventor of qwerty?) uses a mutation of option 1 (the home row is also shifted to the right), unlike Motorola’s just-announced Cliq (which goes with standard option 1).

(And then, of course, there’s Dell, who apparently once offset one row of keys on a full-size, non-grid laptop keyboard, just to keep things interesting.)

But anyway, there hasn’t been enough cyberpunk in this blog post yet. Is a miniature keyboard really the best way to get text into a mobile computer? Here’s a real input device (originally from “Intelligent Image Processing” by Steve Mann, John Wiley and Sons, 2001):

Steve Mann's septambic keyer
Steve Mann’s septambic keyer

And yes, I’m mostly including that picture because it reminds me so much of Ghost in the Shell’s dismantled-cyborg imagery.

31 Responses to “Grid keyboards”

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    I have nothing really intelligent to add at this point other than I nearly bought a set of Hello Kitty stickers to put on the properly-aligned keyboard of my laptop the other day.

    Oh, and I went to an exhibit at Tate Modern that you would have liked: No Ghost Just a Shell, which I found really interesting and moving. And it felt like something from an episode of the show. :)

  2. IN10DID Says:

    Interesting post, I guess the kb we are building would also qualify as a grid kb, ten keys in two rows!

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