Keyboards have become like mobile phone plans or insurance options, there’s so much variety and choice now it’s almost… depressing (hah!). Mark Williams looks at the continuing evolution of keyboards
I remember a time when you couldn’t care less about your input peripherals, the fanciest thing you could do was get a gel wrist rest for the keyboard or a mouse pad with a jazzy printed design. Then mice started becoming designer items with fancy specs to increase accuracy, response times and comfort thanks to the revolution brought in by optical sensor technology.
This mouse boom pretty much came at the cost of mind space for the trusty keyboard, which to my recollection went into a sort of dark age. Sure there were gamer/enthusiast-focused keyboards during that time, but short of the Logitech G15 (which I had to Google to recall) I can’t really think of any other models from that period off the top of my head. Unlike the Logitech MX500 and Razer Diamondback which immediately springs to mind for mice of the era.
It wasn’t until keyboards sporting Cherry-branded MX switches made their way into enthusiast keyboards that the scene began to change. While not a buckling spring design found in the iconic IBM Model M keyboard that typists love, Cherry’s take on the mechanical key switch promised much of the tactile and audio feedback of a buckling spring switch of yore but without the activation forces required.
Having been brought up on spongy membrane or rubber dome, even scissor switch keyboards, the thought of a mechanical switching mechanism brought awe and wonder to a generation of users who’d never seen or used an IBM Model M.
There were also different versions of the MX switch, reds for gamers, blues for typists, and browns for those in between.
Then LEDs happened. Backlit everything everywhere. At first in single colours pioneered by the likes of the iconic Corsair K70, soon followed by the RGB revolution we find ourselves in today, where any colour under any key you choose is now possible, and can all flash, change and react to your inputs. Our keyboards have turned into the disco floors of the 21st century for our fingers.
Surprisingly, alternate keyboard switch technologies are still being developed with analogue keyboards and so-called mem-chanical/mecha-membrane switches recently showing up. Aimpad’s R5 keyboard sports analogue keys which are presented to the system as a separate Xbox controller; when running around in an FPS using WASD keys, how far you depress the key actually controls the speed of your avatar - very cool.
Mem-chanical/mecha-membrane switches are very recent too, claiming to give the tactile actuation feedback of a mechanical switch with a soft cushiony feel for easy touch typing.
It’s great seeing all the innovation in this space after mice had their decade-long head start.