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  • History of computer keyboard

    Inventor Christopher Latham schools did nail it, but his typewriter would end up being the forerunner of the most popular communication tools in the 21st century. 

    Because even though in 1874,typing device that had one letter to each key wasn't exactly the most brilliant idea in history.

    chirstopher scholes

    Scholes typewriter was notable for introducing the now QWERTY layout which was effective because it kept letters that were commonly used together away fom each other to prevent the mechanical arms of the typewriter from hitting each other and causing jams.

    typewriter

    Now of course 'E' & 'R' ae placed together in lots of words and in fact,the original design had a period where 'R' key is today.But whatever the reason is, QWERTY typewriter became popular and this keyboard layout made the standards for the teleprinters that became widespread in the early 20th century.

    early keyboard

    So it wasn't surprising then that when actual computers like the 30 ton ENIAC started popping under the scene in 1940's. This same teleprinters ended up getting used for data inputs with that same QWERTY layout.setting the stage for the now familiar keyboard layout to be integrated into later machines that were less than an entire family of elephants

    In the 1960's Video terminals started becoming popular and this typically included keyboards that allowed users to quickly and easily manipulate data on the screen, instead of using cards or paper tape. Like these earlier teleprinters that were adapted for use of computers.

    Video terminals

    Although these terminals looked like full fledged computers usually just a monitor and keyboard combo that had to be plugged into larger sized systems. However since it was much easier to type than flipping a bunch of switches,most computers featured keyboards of some fashion by the early 1980's and we even started seeing some of the first economic keyboards in the late 70's. With companies like Maltron thinking about user comfort, in a way that led to some very interesting designs and it was a period of great innovation under the hood.

    first economic key boardsmacron

     

     

     


    Many early keyboards used keys that were pretty different from  what you are probably typing on right now including ultrasonic switches that actually listened to different vibrations in each key that was pressed. Some even used magnets  that get close to metal pieces causing them to come in contact whenever the key was pushed down,this was called Reed Switches and while this concept is still in use today in applications like switching off a laptop when you close the lid, they tend to be too fragile and inaccurate for keyboards.

    metal keyboards

    So a couple of alternative designs took over reed switches. One was the familiar membrane which works by placing a metal layer under each key. The direct contact traces on the keyboard's circuit board when a key is pressed down, this design is inexpensive and resistant to debris which is what we have in keyboards today.

    Another was what IBM patented in 1978, a spring loaded key switch called Buckling Spring . This also worked by direct contact in that pressing down causes two pieces of metal to touch. But they proved to be not only durable, but also a pleasure to type on and subjectively listen to .

    IBM

    so why not the first mechanical switch ? Buckling spring switches gained enormous popularity,thanks to their inclusion in the module F-keyboard that came with original IBM PC in 1980. 

    Of course noise, heavy mechanical switches are not the best solutions of which I am sure you the reader can attest to if you have ever had a roommate typing away on their spring keyboard while you are trying to sleep. So rubber domed keyboard were developed around the same time. They used  a noiseless feedback due to the rubber dome . so they were cheaper and more quiet than their spring loaded counter parts . Rubber domes have become common modern keyboards and laptops in the form low profile seizure switch variant, which helps to space.

    This cheap keyboards drove much of evolution of keyboard for the next keyboards with IBM having the brilliant idea of sticking letters on key caps , rather than having a different manufacturing process for every key.

    So fast forward to today, keyboards are light weight commodity items , easily found for less than 10 dollars, but there is also an enormous variety of options out there. From back lighting keyboards to keyboards with optical switches or even keyboards with no keys at all.

    mouseless

    But whatever you go with there is one things that haven't changed a bit ,bread crumbs are still the enemy.

    what type of keyboard are you using currently? we would love to know in comments section below

    Updated on 9:50-am August 13,2019


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