Evolution of Laptop Keyboards, No More Page Up/Down Keys!

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

In past few years, there's notable change of laptop keyboards across board.

Let's look at the ThinkPad keyboard thru the years.

ThinkPad Keyboard 1994

ThinkPad 360PE keyboard 42810
ThinkPad 360PE keyboard, year 1994. 〔image source deskthority. photo by micrex22〕

In the beginning, the IBM ThinkPad keyboard physical layout is pretty much “normal”, by just moving standard PC keyboard keys into a smaller space.

Note the standard key cluster Insert ⌦ Delete Home End Page Up Page Down on upper right.

And keys Print Screen Scroll Lock Pause, and full function keys.

Also, note that the number pad are embedded in the right-hand side of the keyboard. You press the Num Lock key (by Fn +Scroll Lock ), then the right hand letter keys becomes number pad.

Note the red dot. That's a track-point. ThinkPad is famous for its embedded track-point. Many people love the track-point.

Here's a IBM keyboard of the same era, for comparison.

model M keyboard
IBM Model M Keyboard, year ~1990

[see IBM Model M keyboard]

ThinkPad Keyboard 1998

ThinkPad i series keyboard 44661
ThinkPad i series keyboard, year ~1998 to 2001. 〔image source deskthority. photo by micrex22〕

Note the colored app launch keys, for opening browser “home page”, email, a document button, a search button.

Dedicated application launch keys are popular since ~1996, the beginning of web boom.

Also added is the ❖ Window key and ▤ Menu key. Everything else is about the same.

The ❖ Window and ▤ Menu keys first appeared on Microsoft Natural Keyboard, for Microsoft Windows 95.

[see Microsoft Natural Keyboard]

ThinkPad Keyboard Layout, 1994 to 2012

The ThinkPad keyboard layout didn't change much since, until 2012.

lenovo ThinkPad keyboard 2014 02 08
ThinkPad keyboard layout, roughly from year 1994 to 2012.

Added are the “previous page” and “next page” keys for browser, next to the arrow keys.

2012 ThinkPad Keyboard

ThinkPad, starting in 2012, made a big change to their keyboard layout, and began to use “islands-style” keys.

Many beloved keys are gone, and many ThinkPad users are angry.

Lenovo ThinkPad X240 keyboard
Lenovo Thinkpad Ultrabook X240 keyboard. Lenovo Thinkpad (thanks to Gabriel Saldana)

This new layout actually makes better sense.

The Page Up Page Down keys are now next to the arrows, easier to access.

The ⌦ Delete key is right above ⌫ Backspace, also good change.

The function keys now has narrow gaps between groups of 4. This is not so good.

The chiclet keys, provides better feel.

Rarely used keys are removed. They are: Insert ▤ Menu Pause Scroll Lock

[see Print Screen, SysRq/ScrLk, Pause/Break Keys]

[see Microsoft Keyboard Menu Key]

The browser backward and forward keys are also gone, but it's good change, because now with large multi-touch pad, it's easier to swipe the touch pad to go back or forward browser page.

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ThinkPad USB Keyboard, 2017. ThinkPad keyboard

2000s, Widescreen + Full-Sized Laptop Keyboard

In about 2008, widescreen became popular, and laptop got larger, and have dedicated numerical keypad.

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Gateway P6831fx Laptop, released in 2008. 〔image source http://www.anandtech.com/show/2490

Macbook Laptop Keyboard

In 2010s, laptop keyboard again don't have the number pad anymore. But, further, they started to not have page up/down keys. This is led by rise of popularity of Apple's laptops, which never had these keys, and Google's Chromebook with vast simplified keyboard.

Apple iBook G4 Snow keyboard euro layout 98214
Apple iBook G4 Snow keyboard (year 2003), European layout.

Note, there's dedicated {Page Up, Page Down, Home, End, ⌦ Delete} keys.

[see Apple Keyboards ⌨]

Macbook Pro 2015 keyboard 11256
2015 Macbook Pro keyboard.
macbook keyboard 2015-03
Macbook Keyboard 2015. MacBook Pro

See also:

Chromebook Keyboard

Google, started to make its own laptop in 2011, with a redesigned keyboard that killed many standard keys.

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Chromebook pixel keyboard (year 2013). Chromebook Pixel

Chromebook, drastically reduced the keyboard complexity.

  1. {Page Up, Page Down} are gone. These are quite useful. More efficient than using touchpad to scroll. (but less efficient than a scroll wheel with acceleration.)
  2. There's no {Home, End} keys.
  3. No ⌦ Delete. No need for this key if you are mostly browsing web.
  4. The pesky Caps Lock key is gone. Replaced by a giant Web Search 🔍 key.
  5. The F1F12 also gone. Bad point for programers. (the top row can actually be switched back to as F keys, but now there's no label.)
  6. Ctrl and Alt are huge. This is excellent, especially for Emacs users.
  7. Also gone are number pad embedded in the letter keys.
  8. No more ❖ Window or ⌘ command key.
  9. No more diddling with Fn key.
  10. The labels for the letters, are now lower case. a b c.

2012 to 2013 Laptop Keyboards

Here's a 2012 laptop keyboard.

Asus zenbook keyboard-3d39610f
ASUS Zenbook laptop. ASUS Zenbook

Again, there's no {Page Up, Page Down, Home, End} keys. But it does have ⌦ Delete key, which is often used on Microsoft Windows and Linux.

It has Print Screen Pause, but no Scroll Lock

Dell Inspiron laptop keyboard 2014-02-07-2
Dell Inspiron 15 i15RV-953BLK Laptop, released in 2013. Dell laptop

Note that, it is essentially the same as a full-sized PC keyboard. On this particular one, it doesn't have {▤ Menu, Pause,Scroll Lock} keys.

Microsoft Surface Book 2016 Keyboard

The Microsoft Surface Book came out in 2016.

microsoft surface book keyboard 2016 58947
Microsoft Surface Book Keyboard, 2016. Microsoft Surface Book 〔image source https://www.itunity.com/article/surface-book-unboxing-2725

Keys like Print Screen Home End Page Up Page Down Insert are merged with the function keys, accessed with holding Fn.

It retains the ⌦ Delete as dedicated physical key.

There is one significant innovation: the number key row is positioned more to the right than traditional layout. Look at the keys 7 and u. Now, look at other laptops of these keys.

This innovation of Microsoft Surface Book keyboard is great, because the traditional keyboard number key row position is shifted too much to the left. It was that way inherited from mechanical typewriter's design, in order to keep the levers underneath evenly spaced.

[see Computer Keyboard Design Flaws]

Emacs Keybinding Design, Laptop Keyboards: No More Page Up, Page Down Keys, Multiple Keys for the Same Function?

Recently () , started to work on MacBook. One problem is that my xah fly keys Mode isn't designed for using on Apple keyboard. For example, Apple Keyboards in general don't have {Home, End, Page Up, Page Down} keys. So, i had to make a lot adjustments of my own keybinding.

[see Apple Keyboards ⌨]

The gist here, is that when you design a keybinding system for general public use, such as ErgoEmacs Keybinding, you then have to consider popularly used keyboard hardware, their key arrangement. For example, if the only key shortcut to do page up is the Page Up key, and popular laptops don't have that key, then it's a problem. This is interesting because it touches on several issues.

When designing a keybinding system, ideally, a command should not have multiple keybinding, because it's confusing and redundant. (For example, in emacs, there are 3 keys for undo: {【Ctrl+_】, 【Ctrl+/】, 【Ctrl+x u】}) However, this is almost unavoidable, because there are quite a lot different keyboard in popular use, some don't have particular key, some have them on different position. So, the ideal key only works on one subset of popular keyboards, and you need other keybinding for different keyboards.

The other interesting thing is that, if you really consider all keyboards, then you often ends up with a common denominator. Namely, do everything with a Ctrl combination, like most unix terminal software. Which means, very inefficient use of keys. [see Linux: Bash Keys, Terminal Keys, Man Page Keys]

Of course, i knew the above, and have kept them in mind. But there's a new trend i haven't thought about. That is, many of today's laptops, no longer have physical {Page Up, Page Down, Home, End} keys. This is a new trend, started few years ago, especially by Chromebooks. This mean, any software that assumed these keys, need to change.

This also has a major impact on key usage. For example, {【Ctrl+Page Up】, 【Ctrl+Page Down】} are used in browsers to switch tabs. And also {【Ctrl+Tab】, 【Ctrl+Shift+Tab】}. I'm not sure which is more popularly used. However, now, since many laptops don't have {Page Up, Page Down} anymore, so the habit may gravitate to {【Ctrl+Tab】, 【Ctrl+Shift+Tab】}, and perhaps in a few years, shortcuts with {Page Up, Page Down} keys may become rare and deprecated.