Apple Computer Keyboards

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Keyboards and mouses from Apple ever since the iMac in 1998 are usually the worst keyboards with respect to ergonomics.

Hard-to-reach Right Cmd Key

Apple keyboard
The Apple keyboard from 2006.

Note the distance of the right side's modifier keys. It is not possible, to use the right thumb to press the ⌥ Opt key while the index finger remains on the J. It makes these keys essentially decorative in nature. (Apple did this to make the keys flush at the lower right corner; sacrificing function for esthetics.)

Apple iMac Keyboard A1243
Apple's full Keyboard as of 2012. amazon 3873×1105 img src

Functions Keys in One Continuous Row with no Gaps

Apple iMac Keyboard A1242
Apple's keyboard as of 2008. amazon 1500×680 img src In this model, the left and right ⌘ Cmd keys are symmetrically placed with respect to F and J keys.

Another bad design is that the function keys are all squished together into one beatific contiguous row. The contiguous-row design makes it difficult to press the right key by touch.

keyboard function keys
Function Keys, your best friend. 〔☛ Computer Keyboard: Increase Productivity Using Function Keys

Human perception is not optimized to deal with uniform geometric arrays. A array of neat rectangles may be esthetically pleasing, but it is not a form that occurs much in nature, and makes it more difficult to recognize or hit the right key.

By making the keys of uniform shape of rectangular array, you take away the ability to distinguish keys by tactile sensation. User must look at the keys.

Function keys are important for programers and gamers. They are very useful as single-press shortcuts that are customizable. 〔☛ Computer Keyboard: Increase Productivity Using Function Keys

Multimedia Keys Combined with Function Keys

Apple combined multimedia keys (such as sound loudness control) into the functional keys. This means, when you want to use functional keys, you have to hold down the fn modifier first. This is a dysfunctional design.

Apple do this because Steve Jobs wants visual elegance, and consider separate multimedia keys too complex or esthetically unwieldy. Steve Jobs wanted to even eliminate the function keys.

Apple computer, software and hardware, are usually of high quality in terms of design with respect to function. However, in some department, such as keyboarding and mouse, they sacrifice function for esthetics.

Here's a excerpt from 〔Steve Jurvetson on Steve Jobs By Steve Jurvetson. @ www.businessweek.com…〕:

When I invited Jobs to take some time away from NeXT to speak to a group of students, he sat in the lotus position in front of my fireplace and wowed us for three hours, as if leading a séance. But then I asked him if he would sign my Apple Extended Keyboard. He burst out: “This keyboard represents everything about Apple that I hate. It's a battleship. Why does it have all these keys? Do you use this F1 key? No.” And with his car keys he pried it right off. “How about this F2 key?” Off they all went. “I'm changing the world, one keyboard at a time,” he concluded in a calmer voice.

Certainly, for most people, the function keys are rarely used. Getting rid of them is a great innovation “FOR THE REST OF US”. However, for professionals (programers, gamers), the function keys are critical. This is a sharp contrast between ugly-looking industrial machines vs pretty-looking consumer devices. 〔☛ Keyboard Shortcut Design: Dedicated keys, Special Buttons, Extra Keys

Shape of Multimedia Keys

mwm mm keys2
Microsoft's ergonomic keyboard. Special keys are shaped in special ways, increasing tactile feedback and visual recognization.

On most PC keyboards, the multimedia keys such as sound-level control, next/previous song, mute, usually have different shaped buttons. This is a good design quality. Because, different shapes for special keys increases tactile recognization as well as visual recognization.

Some keyboards, even use a rotary knob for sound-level control. (⁖ Logitech Gaming Keyboards) which is even better, because rotary knob fits well with the control requirements of sound-level change. When the sound-level control is a button, you need to press it multiple times. With a rotary knob, you can change loudness to desired level instantly, or reverse direction.

Position of LED for Caps Lock

Also note the LED indicator for the Caps Lock key. It is right on the key. You might think that is good design because this way it's clear what the light is for. But, there is a major design flaw in this. Because, when you are typing, you can't see the light there. It's actually better, to have the light indicator elsewhere on the keyboard that's easier to see. For most generic PC keyboards, it's on the upper right side on top of the numerical pads. On some Microsoft ergonomic keyboards, they actually moved it to the middle of the keyboard. 〔☛ Microsoft Ergonomic 4000

Difference with PC Keyboard

Note that Apple's keyboard and PC keyboard have minor differences in their set of keys. For example:

Some of these differences are mere difference in labeling of the key, but not all. For detailed comparison, see: Difference Between Apple & PC keyboards.

Using Symbols as Key Labels

Apple pro keyboard
“Apple pro keyboard (German) (A1048)” img src

One interesting thing about Apple keyboard is that, for their international versions, the key label use symbols instead of English words, for keys such as {Return ↩, Tab ↹, ⇧ Shift, ⇞ Page △, ⇟ Page ▽, ↖ Home, ↘ End, …}. For US and English-speaking countries, it uses English words only. 〔☛ Keyboard Enter/Return Key Symbol — a Survey

Apple Laptop Keyboard

MacBook Pro 2012 keyboard
MacBook Pro 2012 keyboard. MacBook

Note, there's no {⇞ Page △, ⇟ Page ▽, ↖ Home, ↘ End, ⌦ Delete} keys. 〔☛ Laptop Keyboards, No More Page Up/Down for You!

More Apple Keyboard

I used Apple's computer from 1991 to 2009. Have used all their keyboards (except the aluminum flat of ≈2008.)

apple bondi blue imac keyboard
“Apple Bondi Blue iMac keyboard (M2452)” (year 1999)

References

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