geekhack Community > Ergonomics

Who killed the M15?

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In the comments of my Model M15 review, I discovered that Lexmark had licensed much of its technology and designs to Maxi-Switch.

I did some digging/Googling, and things got interesting.

According to an Infoworld magazine announcement dated December 13, 1993: "An ergonomic keyboard from Maxi Switch features 72 keys, a 30-key numeric keypad, and an adjustable design that allows the user to split the keyboard in half." The keyboard was to be called the "Ergo Max."

Webwit brought this model up before, but he was mistaken as to its timing. A version of the Typing Injury FAQ, dated October 17, 1995, reports that Maxi-Switch "decided not to manufacture this keyboard."

Hmm, I wonder why...

The M15 patent was filed January 5, 1993. Then the Apple Adjustable Keyboard patent was filed less than a week later! Patent applications are published only after a delay, and there's no way Maxi-Switch could have known that both IBM and Apple had ergonomic keyboards in the works with patents pending. Oops.

After their announcement, Maxi-Switch probably got some strongly-worded letters from IBM and Apple's lawyers. This eventually led to negotiations (this is common in the computer industry) and Maxi-Switch ended up acquiring "certain tools, molds, patents, copyright licenses, manufacturing information and the Select-Ease trademark." The deal was announced on November 15, 1995--after Maxi-Switch had "decided not to manufacture" the Ergo Max.

itlnstln asserts that Maxi-Switch "walked away with the patent," but can anyone confirm that? And there are two patents on the M15: the design patent and the utility patent.

Even if Maxi-Touch got the design patent, the actual utility patent (for the invention) was licensed to Lexmark from Mark Goldstein, who went on the start Goldtouch. Thus, it doesn't seem like the license was exclusive.

In any event, the design patent has expired and the utility patent is up in 2012. There's hope for a return.

Why you bringing up old ****?

In all seriousness, though, customers killed the M15.  It was too expensive, and (true) ergonomic keyboards never had much of a mainstream following.  Customers killed the Cherry MX-5000, too.  In the end, it almost doesn't matter who has the patents.  Since Unicomp doesn't have them, the M15 wouldn't get made anyway.  Even then, you can see how fast they're turning around new Space Saving Keyboards.


--- Quote from: itlnstln;244245 ---Customers killed the Cherry MX-5000, too.
--- End quote ---
And it's kind of ironic that the rubber dome clone (Siemens KBPC-E (?) aka Kinesis Maxim) still lives.

A lot of things contributed to their demise. Offshore rubber-dome keyboards answered downward pressure on PC prices, the spread of the GUI reduced the need for most users to do a lot of keyboarding, in particular eliminating all of those weird hand-contorting command key combinations, and the fear of ubiquitous keyboard-caused RSI was never actualized.

Computer purchases became much more standardized as no-name clones gave way to (mostly new) big brand names and individual employees stopped getting to spec their own machines.

There was an explosion of ergonomic keyboard offerings, fracturing the potential market just as the forces that created the demand were on the wane. And since one of them was cheap and came from Microsoft, it became the go-to answer for any whiny employees.

And to the M15 in particular, it was a clicky keyboard at a time when a lot of people were (being) convinced that silent keyboards were better.

Back in the day adjustable keyboards were often called "cracked" keyboards, often derisively. I've taken plenty of ribbing for mine over the years. But the thing I've noticed about the people who make fun of my keyboard is that none of them can type worth a damn.


--- Quote from: lowpoly;244352 ---And it's kind of ironic that the rubber dome clone (Siemens KBPC-E (?) aka Kinesis Maxim) still lives.
--- End quote ---

Maybe because here in Euroland, it's by far the cheapest adjustable ergo you can get. About 40 is not that much, and it certainly has more right to claim "ergonomic" than a modestly reliable Microsoft 4000 aircraft carrier.

What's even more ironic though is that a G80-5000 wasn't even that expensive back in the day. They cost maybe 70% more than a regular G80, like 170..180 DM or so. That's less than you'd pay for a new Model M in the mid-'90s.


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