Sunday 30 October 2016

Rethinking the Keyboard

It is well-known that the computer keyboard has been around for a long time, and has not recently undergone any major changes. Although the basic QWERTY layout has been around since the days of typewriters, people are against any change to this design as they are 'used to it'. (They were also used to type-writer, but not many complained when they were given a backspace key that worked).
Since Apple's recent announcements, it is obvious that the time has come to rethink the keyboard. The important points are:
  • Looking at the keyboard is not actually necessary to type
  • Having 3D keys instead of virtual keys allows people to more easily work out which keys their fingers are resting on or about to press
  • Different applications do different things, and therefore it would be nice if different keys could take on different behaviour based on which application was currently in use.
With the above in mind, I make the revolutionary proposal to do away with displays on the keyboard altogether. I know you're immediately wondering how we can cope with only a single display (the monitor), and with no digital display on the keyboard, but consider the following:

New keyboards would have a single row of keys above the number row. I suggest for now that this row should comprise of 13 keys. Twelve of these keys would be called 'function keys', and they would be assigned to different functions in a context-sensitive manner. The F4 key (Function 4 key) would be used to close the currently open window, for example, while the F1 Key would be used to open an entirely unhelpful 'help Wizard' on M$Windoze systems. If a media application is open, then instead of opening an entirely unhelpful 'help Wizard', F1 would instead immediately mute the volume. This would be useful, for example, when you bring your laptop out of hybernation in a public lecture and it resumes playing a film, or other private media that you were watching the night before, at full volume.

The final key would be at the top left of the keyboard, and this would be called the Escape (ESC) key. This key would remove the current focus, (e.g. deselect an image in word processing applications and put the focus back on the last cursor position to resume typing); close JavaScript overlays; and exit insert mode in text editors such as vi (somewhat similar to the arguably easier to press Ctrl + [ combination, but one that is simpler and more beginner friendly).

Advantages of removing the keyboard display:
  • No need to glance up and down between two displays
  • Fingers can easily work out which function key they need to press without looking down
  • One less thing to break -- these function keys would be integrated into the main keyboard. They would not even require their own processor, meaning fewer hardware, software, firmware, and driver issues, as well as creating more environmentally friendly laptops.
Disadvantages of removing the keyboard display:
  • We'll never get a "I rewrote Doom 1 using only the Touchbar" post on Medium.