Keyboards Keep Evolving as Buttons Get Bigger ( June 29, 2009) — Computers get smaller and faster every year, but keyboard design remains largely stuck in the 19th century.

linovo thick laptop keybordChinese computer- maker Lenovo has developed the new Thinkpad T400S Laptop keyboard which has the extra-large “Delete” and “Escape” keys.

To understand Lenovo’s concern, turn the clock back to the 1800s.

Back then, fast typing would jam typewriters, so a keyboard layout that slowed down flying fingers was devised. The commonly used “A” key, for example, was banished to the spot under the relatively uncoordinated left pinky.

Tom Hardy, who designed the original IBM PC of 1981, said companies have tried many times to change the sizes of keys. That first PC had a smaller “Shift” key than IBM’s popular Selectric typewriter did, and it was placed in a different spot, in part because the industry didn’t think computers would replace typewriters for high-volume typing tasks.

IBM reversed course with the next version to quiet the outcry from skilled touch-typists.

PC makers relearned this lesson in the past year, as netbooks — tiny, cheap laptops — have become popular with budget-conscious consumers. Early models boasted screens measuring as little as 7 inches on the diagonal, requiring shrunken keyboards that many people found to be too small. Some even repeated IBM’s mistake by cutting the size of the “Shift” key.

The computer makers have largely shifted focus to 10-inch or larger netbooks, so that there’d be room for near-standard keyboards or better.

However many laws of keyboard layout remain sacred, like the 19-millimeter distance between the centers of the letter keys.

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