Review: Apple's new keyboards (Verdict: Atrocious)

Apple released an entirely new keyboard design with nary a peep. It flew under the radar arriving with the newest iMac launched on 07 August 2007.

Apple released an entirely new keyboard design with nary a peep. It flew under the radar arriving with the newest iMac launched on 07 August 2007. The new design wasn't a complete surprise though, it was leaked a couple of weeks before it was launched.

The new keyboard is mentioned on the new iMac's design page, which raves:

Completely redesigned, the included Apple Keyboard perfectly complements your iMac. Its ultrathin anodized aluminum enclosure features low-profile keys that provide a crisp, responsive feel. The keyboard includes special function keys for one-touch control of Mac features, and two USB 2.0 ports for high-speed connectivity to your iPod, Mighty Mouse, digital camera, and other devices.

Since its official release Apple has begun touting the new wafer thin design on a dedicated keyboard page. The new keyboard comes in two flavors: USB (US$49 PN MB110LL/A):

AppleÂ’s new USB keyboard

and Bluetooth (US$79 PN MB167LL/A):

AppleÂ’s new bluetooth keyboard

An aside: I can't believe that Apple dropped the numeric keypad and the arrow keys from the new stumpy wireless keyboard (above). What's up with that? They're on the USB version. I can understand making a smallish wireless keyboard for travel (and home entertainment systems) but they should also make a full size wireless keyboard to replace the previously shipping model. Apple claims that it's a "third party opportunity."

As I previously blogged some of the differences between new keyboard and the one it replaces:

  • Volume controls were moved from above the numeric keypad to the F10, F11 and F12 keys
  • The Eject key is now directly above the delete key (like it is on the MacBook)
  • The Help key has been replaced by a Function ("fn") key
  • The Apple logo has been replaced by the word "Command" – a boon for support techs everywhere
  • New playback keys (back, play/pause, forward) have been added to F7, F8 and F9
  • Bright and Dim keys have been added to F1 and F2 (like the MacBook)
  • Expose (F3) and Dashboard (F4) keys have been added

It should be noted that the Bluetooth version is an exact lift of the keyboard layout from the MacBook, right down to the function key in the lower left. Is Apple merely trying to maximize profits by using the exact component that ships in the MacBooks in their wireless keyboard? Could be. There's already a theory being floated that Apple is using the piece of aluminum that's cut out to create the iMac display hole to fabricate the new keyboards.

I don't have a problem with Apple standardizing components to save costs, except when those components stink. And boy, do Apple's new keyboards ever stink.

I've tolerated the evolution of the Apple mouse from the very first model (complete with DB-9 connector), the ADB versions, the the carpel-inducing hockey puck design and the button-less, seven-button Mighty Mouse. Mostly because the complement the Mac well and usually work ok.

Keyboards are a different story altogether.

As someone who writes for a living, the keyboard is my primary interface to my computer. It's my livelihood. When I recently switched from a MacBook Pro to a MacBook, the first thing that bothered me was the chiclet keyboard. I eventually got somewhat used to it but I still can't type nearly as fast on the MacBook's keyboard as I can on the MBP keyboard.

The new keyboard lacks throw, more commonly referred to as key travel, which means that keys require less pressure to engage. They also lack solid tactile feedback which can be a problem for some. The keys are flush with the casing beneath them when depressed–which contributes to the unusual feel.

The shape of the keys is also weird. They're more square, rather than trapezoidal, which means that they’re the same width at the top as they are at the bottom. Theoretically square key tops should provide more contact area at the top of the key because it doesn’t slope out lower down the key, but I don't think that it makes much of a difference. Since the new key tops are slightly wider and closer together they're bound to give fits to customers with large fingers.

The new keys tops are completely flat as opposed to the old key tops which are slightly concave and help to center your finger tips on the individual keys. Flat keys don't provide enough tactile feedback as to where you are the key contributing to errors.

As you can see, I don't have much good to say about the new keyboards. Just about everything with them is bad. Apple is putting form over function with the new design and for something as critical as a keyboard, it's a grave error. But hey, that's just me. Chime in in the TalkBack section below with your thoughts on the new keyboards.

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