Apple Keyboards ⌨

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

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

Hard-to-reach Right Command Key

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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 ⌥ option 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.)

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Apple's full Keyboard as of 2012. Apple keyboard 3873×1105 image source

Functions Keys in One Continuous Row with no Gaps

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Apple's keyboard as of 2008. Apple keyboard In this model, the left and right ⌘ command keys are symmetrically placed with respect to F and J keys. 〔image source

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.

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Function Keys, your best friend. 〔►see What's the Use of Function Keys F1 F2…?

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. 〔►see What's the Use of Function Keys F1 F2…?

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.

See: NeXT Keyboard.

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.

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. 〔►see Keyboard Shortcut Design: Dedicated keys, Special Buttons, Extra Keys

Shape of Multimedia Keys

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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. 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. (for example: 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

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Apple keyboard caps lock key LED indicator.

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 practical flaw. 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. 〔►see 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:

For detail, see: Difference Between Apple and PC keyboards.

Using Symbols as Key Labels

Apple Keyboard A1016 Russian layout
Apple Keyboard A1016 with Russian layout.
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Apple pro keyboard (A1048), German layout. image source

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 Up, ⇟ Page Down, ↖ Home, ↘ End, …}. For US and English-speaking countries, it uses English words only. 〔►see Keyboard Enter/Return Key Symbol

Apple Laptop Keyboard

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2015 Macbook Pro keyboard.
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Macbook Keyboard 2015. MacBook Pro

Note, there's no {⇞ Page Up, ⇟ Page Down, ↖ Home, ↘ End, ⌦ Delete} keys. 〔►see Evolution of Laptop Keyboards, No More Page Up/Down Keys!

More Apple Keyboard

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

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“Apple Bondi Blue iMac keyboard (M2452)” (year 1999)
Apple extended keyboard 1 1987
Apple extended keyboard 1 1987, German layout. 〔image source

The Apple extended keyboard. This is the best Apple keyboard at the time, i used for many years around 1992 to 1994.

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Apple IIe. (img src
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Apple Macintosh 512 keyboard. (photo by Muirium. image source)

〔►see Control Key and Capslock Key Positions in Old Keyboards

Apple Keyboard History

Apple Keyboard Evolution 1983-2015 Part 1