The news that Apple has a new approach to input planned for its next MacBooks will doubtless come as something of a shock to the staid world of keyboards, rather as if the 6 O’clock News tonight was to be read by Elvis, or Her Majesty the Queen appeared to her public wearing nothing but fishnets and a cheeky grin, or America were to elect Don... oh well, you get the idea.
Some things never change and those things are called keyboards. While the rest of technology doesn’t pause for breath, keyboards have enjoyed the longest snooze since Rip Van Winkle. For keyboards the song remains the same and it has been playing for over half a century; even the bass guitar solo would constitute a welcome reprieve.
CLACK-CLACK-CLACK… Keyboards are the great survivors of computing in the same way that cockroaches survive nuclear strikes thanks to their simple build. Nothing seems able to dislodge these cheap, omnipresent devices; to co-opt the Arab proverb, the dogs bark but the caravan moves on.
Keyboards aren’t a great design but they get the job done. Every 10 years ago there might be a bit of a change like a Windows key being added but most of time they just sit there gorging of fluff and crumbs. If anybody can move us away from our keyboards it’s probably Apple, the company that popularised the mouse, trackball, touchpad, touchscreen and to a lesser extent, voice input. But even the golden children of Cupertino appear only to aspire to an evolutionary advance. The ‘OLED touch bar’ of the next laptops appear to be a way to make function keys more accessible and to squeeze in extra features such as a payment button.
It’s highly likely that even if we destroyed every keyboard ever built they would find a way to re-energise themselves. After all, even when Apple dispensed with a physical keyboard for the iPhone we still used its virtual sibling. QWERTY is with us forever: better to admit defeat than fight it.
Voice input: overhyped and overrated
Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect
Phil Muncaster reports on China and beyond