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Main Means of Interface

Before I begin, I hope you will forgive me for being so short of hyperlink references for this entry. I'm in the middle of an article and I can't psychologically justify the effort it would require to hunt down those canonical references (DaringFireball, Slashdot, MacWorld, ATPM, etc.) that would give this entry the heft of authority.

Many of us spend a lot of time in front of our computers. For those of us whose livelihoods primarily depend on research, interacting with computers (over and against print) is the main mode of our production. We communicate with far-flung colleagues, busy fellow faculty, overbooked administrators, and hardworking students using our computers. For those of us with workable digital filing systems, research articles are paperless, existing to our immediate perceptions only as pixels rendered to our monitors. For those of us who produce digital texts such as blogs, online catalogs, and machine-readable texts, the amount of time spent in front of a computer can devour between twelve and sixteen hours of a typical work day. This is all a short way of saying that the evolution of digital media and its effects will dwarf the changes to human interaction which resulted with the advent of print. Our shared values--which amount to no less than the idea that print is sacred--will seem so much sentimentality inside of our lifetimes. For many of us, this moment has already arrived. It certainly has arrived for the generation coming of age today.

But I was on about those missing hyperlink references.

It has been noted that Apple doesn't produce new technology as such. Rather, Apple takes existing technology and puts it into a form that people find more intuitive than what came before. That is, Apple understands how to build usable interfaces for complicated technical devices. While I might reserve an exception for the Apple ][ which integrated the keyboard as its primary means of interacting with its electronic registers and memory circuits, there are many examples of Apple leveraging existing technology to commercial and (more to the point) computing advantage: the Macintosh 128k, the iPod, the iPhone, the Newton (oops), etc. The word on the street is that Apple doesn't invent so-and-so. Rather, Apple innovates by packaging existing technology into a form useful to the average consumer.

Undoubtedly, such logic is a massive oversimplification of the complex process of design, prototyping, and testing involved in bringing a mass-produced technical device to market. Even so, such simplified thinking helps me to make my point that with its August 2007 introduction of its new keyboard, Apple has finally produced a (nearly) perfect keyboard. This is important because next to the monitor, the keyboard is the primary means by which we interact with our computers. For writers especially, the haptic interface provided by the keyboard is one that can never be too good. We writers can only hope that the action of our keyboards will at least be good enough.

I learned how to type on a manual typewriter in 1980 (thanks Ms. Weber and Mr. Cowan) and have typed on many keyboards since. There is nothing that compares to the experience of typing on the current Apple keyboard. Many of you who know how to type (hunt-and-peckers don't count since they don't really know how to use keyboards) will try the new Apple keyboard and never (want to) look back. I have been waiting for this keyboard ever since I began typing. Its main features (expect imitators to flood the market which, in my opinion, is a good thing) are low profile, shallow keypress, and separated keys.

Perspective for low-profile of 2007 Apple Keyboard

Perspective illustrating the low profile of the 2007 Apple Keyboard.1

Low profile is the feature that changes everything. It obviates the need for a wrist rest. Now, ergonomically designed work spaces can use elbow/arm rests in conjunction with a properly elevated desk surface to support the wrist and relax the carpal tendons. The low profile also transforms the typing process from one that uses fingertips to one that emphasizes fingerpads. The difference cannot be described but it definitely should be experienced.

The second feature--shallow keypress--encourages the use of a soft touch while typing. The tactile feedback is gentle but unambiguous, primarily an effect of the normal force coming back through the fingers. This is ingenious design that accelerates typing and increases endurance.

The third and final feature I will mention is the separated keys. Touch typists don't (mainly) use adjacency or contiguity to locate keys. Typists locate keys as a matter of spatial memory. As a result, keys which are too close in proximity increase the chance of accidental presses. We've all tapped on more than one key at a time or on the same key twice in row. Key separation minimizes these errors.

Of course, fifty dollars is a bit steep for a keyboard, but outside of the monitor, the keyboard is the primary tool of interaction people have for their computers. A keyboard that facilitates input so seamlessly might be worth the not-exactly modest investment. end of article

1 There are lots of reflective surfaces in this photo, I know. The main one is the plexiglass on my desk, but the reflection coming off the keyboard is not a Photoshop trick but the reflection of Saran Wrap which I'm using until these folks update their offerings. Yes, my mother's Korean.



You saran wrap your keyboard?!?!

Dog hairs should be no problem then. Go get yourself a labradoodle already!


Now there's an idea: wrapping animal companions up in Saran Wrap.


hey sk. i was just in the apple store and i was able to check out apple's latest keyboard. ...and well, you don't need to be a touch typist to appreciate a good design. when i comes to typing, i am--and may always be-- a huntNpecker, but when i comes to pwning faces, im a serious touchtyping gamer. the new keyboard rocks! -- and for each of the reasons you mention. id just add that shallow=fast. thanks for posting!

"since they don't really know how to use keyboards." /gag

: P

laters sk