Seven fun facts about keyboards

Thumb-sized keyboards, key swapping, and other quirky keyboard facts

A keyboard consists of multiple rows of electrical switches, each of which feature a legend or graphic design. When one of these is pushed, an electrical circuit is closed, and the keyboard sends a signal to the computer that tells it what letter, number or symbol it would like to be shown on the screen. Keyboards play an important role in the function of modern-day computers and most of us rely on them throughout the day.

We used keyboards before we even knew what computers were. For decades, they’ve been the primary method of input for desktop and laptop computers.

We use our keyboards everyday, but how well do we really know them? While you’re probably familiar with the basic design of keyboards, you might be surprised to learn the following facts about them.


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1. Switch-based keyboards were invented in the 1970s.

While mechanical keyboards existed prior to this period, switch-based keyboards were invented in the 1970s. Using an electrical switch for each key, they offered an unparalleled level of performance compared to earlier keyboards.

2. Backlighting can illuminate the keys.

It’s not uncommon for keyboards to feature backlighting. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs), for example, are often installed behind the keys to create an illuminating effect. The LED bulbs project light up and over the keys. With that said, backlighting offers more than just aesthetic benefits; it helps the user identify the keys more easily, thereby improving typing accuracy and speed.

3. Most keyboards have 101 or 104 keys.

In the United States, most computer keyboards have either 101 keys or 104 keys. The former layout is used for standard keyboards, whereas the latter is used for Windows keyboards. Other countries use keyboards with a different layout, which may include more or fewer keys.

4. The first switch-based keyboards cost around $100.

When they were originally released in the 1970s, the first switch-based keyboards sold for about $100 each. If you account for inflation, that translates into over $600 today. Of course, switch-based keyboards have become cheaper over the years. You can now purchase them for less than $20.

5. Some keyboards are designed for thumb usage.

On most keyboards, you type using all your fingers. There are some keyboards, however, that are designed specifically for thumb usage. Known as thumb-sized keyboards, they were popular during the early 2000s. Around this time, PDAs were the latest trend — and these PDAs often had thumb-sized keyboards attached to the bottom.

6. Some keyboards use optics.

Photo-optical keyboards use a unique type of optics-based technology to detect keystrokes. When you press a key, you’ll disturb the light for that key, which the keyboard will use to identify your keystroke.

7. You can change the layout using software.

Ever wish you could swap two or more keys on your keyboard? Well, you can by using the right software. There’s key-changing software available that lives up to its namesake by allowing you to change the key layout of your keyboard. It essentially allows you to customize the keys to perform different commands.

Have a project requiring a custom keyboard?  NMG has expertise in the design and manufacturing of switches, buttons, keyboards, touch screens, and more, Contact us to talk to our team about how we can help.

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