Author Topic: Writer's portable keyboard  (Read 8880 times)

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Offline Oobly

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Writer's portable keyboard
« on: Fri, 19 December 2014, 03:29:56 »
In the thread about the Hemingwrite I posted an idea for a small, portable mechanical keyboard to be used in a similar use case. It's something I've been thinking of for a while and the new thread prompted me to action. So here it is:

[EDIT- this layout is now obsolete, see new layout in update!]

84349-0

It's a small, high quality, mechanical keyboard with a slot / plate for supporting a portable device such as a tablet or phone and uses a MicroUSB OTG cable to connect to the device. It will have a battery mounted in the front part of the keyboard to counterbalance the device when the unit is used on the lap or a desktop and which provides power to the portable device so it can be used for extended periods. It will have a separate MicroUSB port to connect to a charger or PC / Laptop / Mac for both charging and use as a mechanical keyboard.

Here's a link to the proposed keyboard layout, so you can play with it: http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com/#/layouts/77d5c1847798021a2b16ba3ebcb54ad6

It's 1 row shorter and 3 columns narrower than a standard 60%, with the 1x keys at the outside edges bringing everything closer in, so you don't have to move your hands as much when typing as on a normal keyboard.

It's primarily inspired by the Hammond Varityper / Multiplex that JRR Tolkien used to use:


Some more info: http://tonyriches.blogspot.fi/2014/06/j-r-r-tolkiens-writing-habits.html

Another example: http://offountainpenstypewriters.blogspot.fi/2014/10/latest-addition-to-collection-hammond.html

I have tried to keep only the most essential keys for typing prose on the main layer, so as to minimise the size. It will be fully programmable and come with (hopefully) sensible default Fig and Sym layers.

It's still in the design phase, with changes happening all the time, so I can't yet show a drawing of the concept, but I will once I nail down a few more aspects of the design.

Advantages over the Hemingwrite and similar dedicated typewriter-like devices:
1. More compact and portable - it's primarily only a very compact keyboard. Far easier to carry than a laptop or complete writing "gadget" like the Hemingwrite. You're carrying the other half of the unit with you most of the time anyway.
2. More versatile - Can use any app on the device you like or have a preference for. Can be used for many more tasks than just writing prose, limited only by the device you pair it with.
3. Convenient data storage and transfer - no need for intermediate connection, etc. Device has all the connectivity, JotterPad for Android has DropBox integration for example.
4. Long battery life - built-in battery extends the usage time of your portable device and can even be used to charge the device if needed.
5. Can be used as mechanical keyboard for any device that can act as a USB host - PC, Mac, Android, iOS, etc.
6. Does not become obsolete / limited - since people tend to go through upgrade cycles of their portable devices, it's always as up-to-date as your device is.


Initially I am testing the layout on a GON NerD60 (http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com/#/layouts/41822b0067c49a745d05f72068c1c8a6). Once the layout is finalised I will design a PCB and will make a prototype for my own use as a test unit. If testing goes well, I may start an Interest Check for a Group Buy, but that's a long way off yet.

I'm considering the design of a flip-out removable cover which acts as the device holder / support when open and covers the keys when closed. The USB OTC cable will have a 90 degree connector and be stored with a loose loop inside the case so it can be pulled out as far as needed to reach the port on the device, while not getting in the way / looking messy.

For keycaps I was thinking of using DSA profile due to their low height and typewriter-like spherical tops, but I have actually found SA profile to be the most typewriter-like experience I have had with mechanical keyboards. This poses somewhat of a dilemma, since DSA profile only come in matte finish and don't feel as authentic as SA which come in semi-matte and gloss as well as matte and can also be fully contoured / sculptured, but DSA is so much lower and would provide a more compact board. The design of the cover will depend on the profile and thus define the overall thickness of the product.

Post your thoughts :) I'm particularly interested in feedback on use cases / features and whether you would use such a device or not.  Bear in mind it's primarily aimed at people who write a lot and would like a portable unit that feels good so they can get their inspiration onto "paper" conveniently and efficiently, using a familiar interface that aids the process rather then getting in the way.

I will be testing it also as a primary keyboard for PC use, text editing and coding, but this is a secondary function / use case, although if it works well for that, it will increase the appeal to a larger audience.

A possible future feature is the addition of a Trackpoint device to allow it to be used as both a mouse and keyboard and turn any Android device into a laptop (with a mechanical keyboard :) ).


[UPDATE: 17 Feb 2015]

First prototype in action:


[/UPDATE]




[UPDATE: 20 Feb 2015]

Latest layout with possible keycap legends and beveled case edges:
91377-1
http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com/#/layouts/2555c20d9169e280d55ba46b64bb7b1c

[/UPDATE]
« Last Edit: Fri, 20 February 2015, 08:26:28 by Oobly »
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Offline dorkvader

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #1 on: Fri, 19 December 2014, 03:36:49 »
I was planning a similar thing with this guy:
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Offline Mandolin

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #2 on: Fri, 19 December 2014, 03:52:18 »
It looks really good, I like the minimalistic approach, but would specially be interested in an iso ver with a big enter (that small return is for ants).

I would prefer it to be in a case as a calculator, with a detachable lid for protection, to toss it in my backpack
« Last Edit: Fri, 19 December 2014, 04:08:56 by Mandolin »
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Offline vivalarevolución

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #3 on: Fri, 19 December 2014, 06:01:25 »
Heck yes, boys.
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Offline PieterGen

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #4 on: Fri, 19 December 2014, 09:09:55 »
@Dorkvader: Looks like a 1 row LCD display - is that right?

@Oobly: great idea. For some reason I had to think of the Palm foldable keyboard that I had long ago... :-)  But better of course!  How about a layout more like this?.

To me it would be nice for note taking during presentations, talks, meetings and so on. A laptop is sometimes seen as 'intruding' in a meeting. They think you'r hiding behind that screen, people can't see what you're doing, you're having less contact with each other. A tablet (laying down) is better, and is accepted. A small keyboard with a phone would be even better. Is doesn't stand between you and your conversation partners.

Given my use case, the keys would have to be "not too noisy". The quieter the better.
« Last Edit: Fri, 19 December 2014, 09:24:59 by PieterGen »

Offline vivalarevolución

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #5 on: Fri, 19 December 2014, 09:21:43 »
Couple small suggestions:

1.  Bluetooth capabilities, for those that wish to avoid wires altogether
2.  You probably have enough inspiration for the layout, but If you need more inspiration for 3-row typewriter layouts, I recommend checking out the Corona 3 Special and Blickensderfer.
3.  I had some thoughts on the key cap profiles, but I was getting too wordy.  Basically, picking DSA or SA over DCS sacrifices typeability (is that a word?) for retro styling, but we all know that styling is an important part of product appeal.  SA will raise costs, change the "springiness" of the key switches, and might turn off many customers with the odd look.  Also, I have found SA to not be the best for smooth typing, although SA is the most similar to some older electric typewriters (Selectrics, pre-Selectric IBM electrics).  Considering your quote "using a familiar interface that aids the process rather then getting in the way," SA profile has the possibility of getting in the way.

The strength of the device that you have proposed is the focus on simplicity, functionality, and flexibility, compared to other devices that attempt to emulate the styling and simplicity of the typewriter (Hemingwrite, Qwerkywriter), but have a high price that seems is out of alignment with their limited functionality.

« Last Edit: Fri, 19 December 2014, 09:28:57 by prdlm2009 »
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Offline PieterGen

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #6 on: Fri, 19 December 2014, 09:26:56 »
@prdlm2009 - do you feel that DCS has the best "typability" ?

Offline vivalarevolución

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #7 on: Fri, 19 December 2014, 09:49:00 »
@prdlm2009 - do you feel that DCS has the best "typability" ?

I should clarify that term.  By typeability, I mean the best profile for smooth, fast, mistake-free touch typing, at least in my experience.  I like SA profile, but it takes some adjustment and the heavy weight of SA key caps affect the return of a spring to its resting position after it has been compressed.  DSA is visually appealing, but I find the smaller surface area on each key top and uniform profiles to be a slight hindrance when touch typing.

But that's just me, and I am not everyone.
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Offline suicidal_orange

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #8 on: Fri, 19 December 2014, 16:39:27 »
I was thinking the same thing in that "typewriter" thread - why not just carry a nice really small keyboard?  I'm yet to form any opinion on key profiles or switch types but I am used to an ISO enter key so the tiny one proposed here would take a lot of getting used to.

I'll be watching this project with interest.
                               
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Offline Oobly

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #9 on: Sat, 20 December 2014, 17:06:48 »
I'll answer in more detail when I have a bit more time, but I thought I'd mention my progress quickly. I have wired up and programmed my GON with the layout and I find the default layer works very well (I'm typing this post with it :) ). I have very quickly become used to the Enter, Shift and backspace positions, but the Fn layer keys (FIG and SYM) feel a little awkward and are taking a bit of time to get used to and that may be an issue since I'd like it to be as easy to start using efficiently as possible. In that light I've come up with another possible layout: http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com/#/layouts/0d72e6076373ce8dc126e394a43c92a4

Unfortunately it requires a new PCB or plate to be made for further testing, and the positions of the FIG and SYM keys may need to change.

@PieterGen, the layout you propose is not "familiar" enough on the main area to really not be a hindrance. I believe the dimensions are also not ideal for a portable keyboard, since it is a good deal wider and less tall than my proposed layout and the dimension we really need to minimise is the width. With 4 rows it's already "short" enough.

About the Enter key, I am also an ISO user, but have become used to both ISO and ANSI layouts. I found myself hitting the right hand edge of the key initially, but quickly got used to the position and size of it, so I don't think it'll be a hindrance. I actually find the new Shift positions to feel very natural and have less fatigue on my pinkies due to the position. All the keys being closer in actually seems to increase my confidence when typing and reduce fatigue. I'm really enjoying using this layout so far.

I'm using Nuclear Data SA profile caps for testing and really enjoy the feeling of them. In fact I have decided that for me at least, SA profile is the least fatiguing and most "ideal" profile for a correctly angled modern "flat" keyboard. I posted about it here: https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=63052.msg1533265#msg1533265

Of course it's also largely personal preference and most people are more used to stepped angled caps like OEM, DCS and Cherry profile. I find DSA a little awkward to use due to the smaller tops, but it's decent. Fully contoured SA feels best to me and most like an old school typewriter, but in the case of this concept perhaps DCS / Cherry profile would suit best since it is low profile and should feel familiar enough to the largest majority of users.

Some pics and more specific answers later... Thank you for your posts and interest.
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Offline dorkvader

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #10 on: Sat, 20 December 2014, 23:43:59 »
@Dorkvader: Looks like a 1 row LCD display - is that right?
It is a VFD but yes, one row.
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Offline vivalarevolución

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #11 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 07:07:37 »
Thanks for the update, Oobly.  I agree that SA is a great profile and probably my personal preference.  Those big, sculpted keys feel as warm and comforting as being wrapped in a blanket next to a fire.  I guess that it depends on your intentions for the project, whether you are doing it for your own use, our little community, or with the intention of selling to consumers beyond these forums.

That same principle applies to the layout choice.  Consumers don't like their interfaces to be drastically different than what they are accustomed to using.  So changing the position of common keys like Shift, quotation marks, Tab, or Enter will be an adjustment and could be a hinderance if the user is regularly switching between the Writer's keyboard and a regular keyboard.  It may make more sense from our supergeek perspective to change the location of those keys, but it may turn off many potential buyers from using the keyboard.  I imagine that you aim to simplify writing and coding for the writer or coder, rather than create the slight inconvenience of some different positions for commonly used keys.  A person might be instantly repulsed by the "too weird and different" factor with just the first glance.

Of course, I say all this without any research to support my statements, but that's the way it seems sitting from my armchair based on how people in my life react to my keyboards with crazy layouts. There are many people out there that are actual entrepreneurs and have brought products to market (maybe you have already), and their advice probably is more useful.  But I have my opinions, and this forum lets me share them.

Regardless, I plan to offer encouragement along the way, because I would love to see your vision turned into a marketable product.  Owning all these keyboards and typewriters, I can definitely vouch for the value of "LESS IS MORE" when comes to the ideal writing environment.  The fewer things we have to distract us, the more productive and focused we will be on the simple of task of unadulterated writing.
« Last Edit: Sun, 21 December 2014, 08:13:35 by prdlm2009 »
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Offline PieterGen

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #12 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 14:06:00 »
@Oobly I guess you are right in terms of design. I was trying to find a way to use the thumbs more, your new layout looks nice.

I still find the standard stagger dumb (not your fault, I mean the general public is dumb). I don't know how you guys hands are but my left hand looks different from my right hand, it looks kind of mirrored now that I think about it....  :)) :))  It must be me, of course, the industry can't be that dumb, can they ? And of course the stagger is there to make room for you know, all those levers and metal bars on our typographers  typing machines computers  ;) ;)
« Last Edit: Sun, 21 December 2014, 14:07:37 by PieterGen »

Offline Oobly

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #13 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 15:27:44 »
Updated layout: http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com/#/layouts/6ea4940de47c6c871cc0efab9f8fded8

I'll explain the decisions made on the key placements in another post, with images. Time is unfortunately very short for me at the moment. From my intial testing with the GON and some "simulated" testing with my thumbs the layout should be very easy to get used to and require very little adjustment time when coming from a "standard" QWERTY board.

 I'll be building a prototype from a Cherry G80 PCB and a piece of wood :)

@PieterGen: I agree completely! Standard physical layout of keyboards is a legacy of decisions made for mechanical devices which are absolutely obsolete and quite horribly unergonomic. The character layout was already obsolete by the time the 2nd Remington typewriter model was made (it was designed to prevent jamming of the gravity-returned striking levers, the 2nd version had spring return). The physical layout was obsolete as soon as they started to use electrical switches instead of levers. The only reason they're still made this way is familiarity and tradition. See my avatar for one half of my solution :)  For this project I'm using the standard layout in order to take advantage of that familiarity to provide a product that doesn't require a steep learning curve and very quickly gets "out of the way" of entering text when inspiration strikes.
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Offline vivalarevolución

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #14 on: Mon, 22 December 2014, 06:55:20 »
Down with QWERTY!  Down with QWERTY!
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Offline jacobolus

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #15 on: Tue, 23 December 2014, 01:55:51 »

Offline PieterGen

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #16 on: Tue, 23 December 2014, 07:14:13 »
Yes, they used to exist. I remember those gadgets, guess they have been replaced by the multi functional/ polyvalent/ jack of all trades) laptop. If I were a professional writer I would want a good mono functional tool though. Like OObly's Mono Functional (OOMF)

Maybe it asks for a modular approach.
Writing on the go = OOMF + smartphone
Writing a your desk = OOMF + micro computer (raspberrypi? arduino?) + big screen (ISP? or even a big e-ink screen, like the Sony DPTS1?)

@prdlm2009 - Yes, qwerty must die  >:D

Offline PieterGen

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #17 on: Tue, 23 December 2014, 07:36:30 »
@Oobly - how about shifting the q row 0.25 to the right? That way those who like the dumb standard stagger will still feel at home:


But those who want sym stagger could remap the keys to this:



Just an idea, needs refining.

Offline jdcarpe

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #18 on: Tue, 23 December 2014, 09:14:07 »
Oobly, I think this is a great little project. Much more practical than that Hemingwrite, and with the features of a (smaller) Qwerkywriter.

I like your non-rectangular layout just fine, but for some reason I am partial to this layout:




;)

Offline vivalarevolución

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #19 on: Tue, 23 December 2014, 10:34:47 »
Oobly, I think this is a great little project. Much more practical than that Hemingwrite, and with the features of a (smaller) Qwerkywriter.

I like your non-rectangular layout just fine, but for some reason I am partial to this layout:

Show Image



;)

I wonder why you are partial to that layout...

By the way, proper old-school typewriter emulation shall not include symbols on the first layer, except punctuation marks.
« Last Edit: Tue, 23 December 2014, 10:36:42 by prdlm2009 »
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Offline jdcarpe

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #20 on: Tue, 23 December 2014, 11:50:00 »
By the way, proper old-school typewriter emulation shall not include symbols on the first layer, except punctuation marks.

Oh, you and your rules. :))

http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com/#/layouts/1f7ad32d2ef4bd6b661564449dbffd07

Offline KRKS

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #21 on: Tue, 23 December 2014, 12:15:19 »
So I've played around with it a bit, and this is the result:

http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com/#/layouts/c097f702511008bc1f242595f1182c2c

There's still space for something like pairing bluetooth or switching between documents(if it's gonna be a part of a bigger unit).
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Offline vivalarevolución

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #22 on: Tue, 23 December 2014, 13:10:25 »
By the way, proper old-school typewriter emulation shall not include symbols on the first layer, except punctuation marks.

Oh, you and your rules. :))

http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com/#/layouts/1f7ad32d2ef4bd6b661564449dbffd07

Yea, I just made those rules up on the spot. 
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Offline jacobolus

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #23 on: Tue, 23 December 2014, 14:08:05 »
It’s weird to me how many suggested split-spacebar layouts (or keyboard layouts in general) have the spacebars not centered with the home row hand positions. The center of a keyboard as most people use it is between G and H, but few keyboards align the spacebar with that.

Offline jacobolus

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #24 on: Tue, 23 December 2014, 17:33:12 »
How about: http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com/#/layouts/b826ca534c1b76e7dc364d7575b7d036


Or with some of Matias’s new split spacebar keycaps from their ErgoPro:
« Last Edit: Tue, 23 December 2014, 18:04:09 by jacobolus »

Offline vivalarevolución

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #25 on: Wed, 24 December 2014, 06:32:55 »
It’s weird to me how many suggested split-spacebar layouts (or keyboard layouts in general) have the spacebars not centered with the home row hand positions. The center of a keyboard as most people use it is between G and H, but few keyboards align the spacebar with that.

Most people seem to use the same hand for spacebar.  However, the opportunity to use the hand the I prefer would be nice.
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Offline Oobly

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #26 on: Wed, 31 December 2014, 07:01:56 »
Thank you all for your input and suggestions!

The Corona and Blickensderfer compact typewriters are amazing! The "scientific" layout on the Blickensderfer in particular is very interesting. It looks better than Dvorak or Colemak in terms of efficiency, although it seems the bottom row is used as the home row, so in terms of comparison, the top row would become the bottom row on a modern board I guess. I like it a lot!

I like some of the layouts proposed by others in the thread, not such a fan of others. After using the GON version for a little while, my KBT Pure 60% feels too big :) The most important thing I need to change is getting the Fn and EDIT keys into more accessible positions as this is hindering my typing on the GON. The main layer feels awesome to use, though, with the slightly narrower layout proving to take less effort to type, as I was hoping (and causing my right pinkie in particular to be less strained).

@PieterGen: I don't think it's a good idea to alter the stagger. It will be unfamiliar to both the normal QWERTY user AND the symmetrical stagger user, so will not appeal to either group. IMHO, if you're going to fix the layout, go the whole hog ;) https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=49721.0
It's not the primary goal of this project to make something more ergonomic than a standard board, although I am keeping ergonomics in mind for all the changes from standard layout that I'm doing and due the compactness and design decisions it WILL be more ergonomic to use than a standard board.
The primary goal is familiarity along with compactness and ease of use. It must be something that immediately feels good to use and simply allows the user to get their thoughts down without getting in the way. Hopefully it will become a trusted tool, something like a favourite typewriter as many authors, playwrites, etc tend to have.
I would love for it to enhance rather than hinder creativity.

For this reason I really would like to use contoured SA keycaps as I believe they are the most homely and familiar to someone who's used to typewriters and familiar enough for someone who's used to computer keyboards.

If you look at a list of famous writers and their favourite typewriters (such as these listed here: http://site.xavier.edu/polt/typewriters/typers.html), most of them have spherical semi-matte or gloss keycaps.
Of the more recent writers on the list who have had access to word processors and computers, most still prefer to use a typewriter and of these, a few models stand out as being most popular: The IBM Selectric (I, II and III), Hermes (2000, 3000, Baby and Rocket), Olympia (SM3, SM4 and SM9), Smith-Corona (Portable, 2200, Silent Super, etc) and Olivetti (Lettera 22 and 32).
The Selectric has a profile identical to SA and all the others have spherical top smooth or semi-matte keytops. SA is the only profile that even comes close the feel of these. DSA's matte surface is simply too rough.

I guess I'm sort of refining the definition and target market of this product as the discussion continues, so please bear with me as we go through the process. And again, thank you for your input.
So at the moment I'm definitely leaning towards SA keycaps, despite their overall height and the increase in "thickness" it will cause to the product.

@jdcarpe: Your JD45 layout is really nice! I like the overall design of the 45 a lot more than the 40!

@jacobolus: Using spacebar / Fn keys larger than 1,5x makes the Alt and EDIT just a little too awkward to be used with the thumbs comfortably, but I do like the overall design of your layouts.

While including Bluetooth would make it a little less kludgy and simpler to use in some cases, it will increase the complexity and cost and reduce the usage time of both devices (and you're then dependent on whichever one runs out of power first), whereas with a little setup time (unhooking the USB cable and connecting it), it integrates the two devices into one, increasing the usage time and keeping things simpler. Also, if it gets as far as requiring certification, having BT will increase both the cost and time.

Buying more keycaps,
it really hacks my wallet,
but I must have them.

Offline Oobly

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #27 on: Wed, 31 December 2014, 07:04:51 »
Here is the GON board I've been using:

85947-0

And here is the current progress on my next prototype (after some pretend typing on it, I have determined that the Ctrl keys will need to be moved further outward by half a key or so):

85949-1

I have revised the layout a little and here is the latest version.
Base:
85951-2
http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com/#/layouts/38c04c5c9802077db5c1bf30bde77e8b


Fn:
85953-3
http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com/#/layouts/b397455422df3e2762e2b79358ae631f


EDIT:
85955-4
http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com/#/layouts/7aa5754ca95c31aa4ee5a454afe3a3d7
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Offline Oobly

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #28 on: Wed, 31 December 2014, 07:07:34 »
Sorry for the wall of text, but here is my description and justifications for the layout decisions so far (both physical and character):

First off, the entire layout including Fn and Edit layers will be programmable, so a user can relocate any character, function or symbol, but the defaults should and will be very comfortable and familiar to use, except perhaps for the F-keys and a few special cases such as some of the symbols, but these should be easy to get used to.

The physical layout is not flexible, though, so it needs to be really easy to use and feel both natural and comfortable.

The way the layout is designed, and the positions of the keys decided, is by how most users will "look for" those keys and how they confirm by feel that they're the correct ones.

Backspace: Top rightmost key on the key block. Indexed by the upper right corner.
Enter: Rightmost key on centre row, up and right for ISO version. The 1x key on my layout is the only one in this position. If you're used to ISO you may start by hitting the top right corner of the key, but you quickly adjust.
Left Shift: It's in the standard position for ANSI layouts. For ISO it's the leftmost key on that row, found by moving down and left from 'A', indexed by the leftmost edge.
Right Shift: Rightmost key on bottom row, found by moving down and right from ';' (which is actually '"' on my layout). Indexed in this case by the right hand edge. I have actually found this to be surprisingly easy to get used to, it's just like the normal movement, but without stretching so far.
'"' key: It's in the same position relative to right Shift for creating '"' and it's just left of Enter. It's used more often than ';', so I've placed it on the main layer instead of ';' (with ';' in the same place on the Fn layer). In my testing I have found it to be more convenient and easier to use than the standard position and again, surprisingly easy to get used to, it felt natural immediately.
Ctrl: Bottom extreme corners of the keyboard. I still have to test the precise positioning of these, particularly for Ctrl-Z -> Ctrl-V combinations, but they will be the left and rightmost keys on the spacebar row.
Fn key: Using the unused thumb for this key makes it very easy to use in combination with the normal keys without having to twist your hand or use a "normal" typing finger to enable the layer. It allows you to use the "correct" finger for the number row and frees up the pinkie for hitting shift+number and other combinations.
Tab: Found by moving up and across from 'A', 2nd row from the top. Since there's no key to the left of Q, the Tab key now gets indexed by the upper left edge since it's the last key in that direction and the furthest left on the 2nd row.
EDIT key: To the right of space in an easy-to-reach position for the right thumb. Allows the use of all modifiers in combination with the edit keys and other keys on the layer.
Alt: Left of the double "spacebar", easy to press with the left thumb. This position also needs some testing to decide if it should remain there or be moved.

Symbols on number keys: Accessed by Fn+Shift+top row. Positions are Q=1, P=0. Other symbols are on the bottom row of the Fn layer. Indexed by being the top row, positions are quite intuitive, for instance '!' = Fn+Shift+Q with Fn being pressed by the thumb and Shift+Q feels very much like Shift+1 on a normal board.
Other symbols: '/?' is to the left of Shift, '-' is on the right index finger as it is an often-used character. '\' is positioned in order to be familiar to both ISO and ANSI users, to the right of the left shift and above the Enter key. '[{' and ']}' are duplicated for ease of access when coding.
EDIT layer: OKL;=arrow keys, I=Home, P=End, U=PgUp, J=PgDn. This is similar to what many 60% boards use (arrow keys are the same on KBT Pure and Ducky Mini, KBP V60 uses PL;') and it makes holding the Edit and right Shift keys while using them a quite easy (for selecting text for instance). This layer will also contain the remaining "missing" keys such as Print Screen, Insert, Pause, etc.
ESC: None on the default layer. This is to allow the Tab key position indexing to work correctly / easily. Esc is now on the Fn layer TAB position.

There are no keys between Alt and Ctrl or between EDIT and Ctrl. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, the positions between these keys are very awkward to reach with either thumb or pinkie, so I don't see any point in placing keys there. Secondly it allows some internal space for adding batteries / weights to the front area of the case without increasing the size.
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Offline Oobly

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #29 on: Wed, 31 December 2014, 09:00:51 »
Alternative EDIT layer that allows you to use Ctrl ZXCV shortcuts without releasing the EDIT key: http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com/#/layouts/1094b257fc9cecfdb4ca0f4c1effa7bd
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Offline vivalarevolución

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #30 on: Wed, 31 December 2014, 12:10:26 »
How would the modifiers be positioned for a Mac OS user?

By the way, nice list from Richard Polt's website.  I met him at the International Typewriters Collectors Convention in August.  He's an interesting guy with plenty of information in his head.
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Offline Oobly

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #31 on: Wed, 31 December 2014, 13:30:54 »
How would the modifiers be positioned for a Mac OS user?

By the way, nice list from Richard Polt's website.  I met him at the International Typewriters Collectors Convention in August.  He's an interesting guy with plenty of information in his head.

I guess the defaults would map Ctrl=Ctrl, Alt=Option. We could assign one of the Ctrl keys to Win and that should then map to Cmd by default. I guess a lot of people would use it with iOS devices, so perhaps the default mapping should be a bit more Mac and iOS friendly. Perhaps with the bottom row being: Ctrl, Win, Fn, space, EDIT, Alt so that Cmd will be left of Fn and Option on the right "Ctrl" key.

The downside is that Windows and Android users who don't use the Win key much would have to remap the keys with a PC or Mac, but then again most of those users are more amenable to doing some tweaking / setting up to get stuff they way they want, so it could be the way to go. Another option is to have 2 default firmwares available when ordering or even offer a custom layout service when building them depending on the way things progress.

It's certainly an interesting list, even with pictures and videos of the respective writers with their machines. Great that you've met the compiler of it!
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Offline jacobolus

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #32 on: Wed, 31 December 2014, 19:34:37 »
@jacobolus: Using spacebar / Fn keys larger than 1,5x makes the Alt and EDIT just a little too awkward to be used with the thumbs comfortably, but I do like the overall design of your layouts.
When using a split spacebar, if each spacebar is any smaller than 2u then the spacebar becomes uncomfortable to reach for many people. I would in general recommend either 2u or 2.5u split spacebars (assuming the split is centered under the G/H boundary). 2.5u split spacebars also work pretty well with an extra column added in the middle of the keyboard between TGB / YHN.

Speaking only for myself, I find it’s comfortable to use my thumbs for any keys that are directly below A or semicolon (in ANSI/QWERTY layout) or closer. Keys directly below caps lock / apostrophe are a bit too far over to reach comfortably.

Offline Oobly

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #33 on: Fri, 02 January 2015, 05:32:58 »
@jacobolus: Using spacebar / Fn keys larger than 1,5x makes the Alt and EDIT just a little too awkward to be used with the thumbs comfortably, but I do like the overall design of your layouts.
When using a split spacebar, if each spacebar is any smaller than 2u then the spacebar becomes uncomfortable to reach for many people. I would in general recommend either 2u or 2.5u split spacebars (assuming the split is centered under the G/H boundary). 2.5u split spacebars also work pretty well with an extra column added in the middle of the keyboard between TGB / YHN.

Speaking only for myself, I find it’s comfortable to use my thumbs for any keys that are directly below A or semicolon (in ANSI/QWERTY layout) or closer. Keys directly below caps lock / apostrophe are a bit too far over to reach comfortably.

Would you consider a button below the semicolon as usable by the thumb if you also need to press OKL; or IJKL as arrow keys while it is pressed? For me that's not comfortable at all, I even find Alt keys to be a PITA to use with thumbs. I find "," position to be still comfortable while using OKL; for extended periods, but that's the limit for me. If I want to use IJKL for arrows, "M" is as far out as I'd want to put the "EDIT" key, especially if I have mapped a character/function to EDIT+"H" or "Y". So that's where it is. I want the positions to feel comfortable and natural, with myself as a starting point, but using friends and colleagues as a small focus group.

From a brief poll at the office it's mainly the people who press space with their left thumb that press it further out and could require a larger key or perhaps swapping the 1x and 1.5, since they seem to centre their press around 0.25 into the posiition of "V" from left to right, directly under the divider between "R" and "T".

I'm also interested in how the size of the board affects the position, though, as I believe in some it would tend to encourage them to press it more centrally, particularly those who index their hand postions from the outside of the shift keys.

Once it is complete (and can be used to enter text to the computer) I will pass my latest prototype around the office and get feedback on this. I'll program both left and right keys as space and leave out the Fn layer, just to get feedback on the basic alpha area, EDIT key and layer, Shift keys, Enter, Backspace, Tab and Spacebar positions / ease of use. If people consider either spacebar position awkward to use I will modify the design further. This actually brings up a design point. It may be worthwhile to include a left/right switch so if someone sees someone else using one and wants to try it out, the Fn / Space can be swapped in case they use the opposite thumb to the owner of the board (good for marketing / promotion, demos, etc).

I'd like to avoid using stabilisers if possible, though. No individual really needs a larger than 1.75x key, but it may be needed if there is too much variation in comfortable positions for the key. Another solution is to offer a few layout options for the people who press it on more extreme positions, although this is undesirable for a number of reasons.

<EDIT> There is one advantage to using 2x size keys for the spacebar/FN keys, though. SP makes 2x size relegendable SA profile keycaps, whereas they don't make 1.5x :) </EDIT>
« Last Edit: Fri, 02 January 2015, 09:18:43 by Oobly »
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Offline Oobly

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #34 on: Fri, 02 January 2015, 08:40:07 »
Just thought I'd add that many people seem to be able to get used to the tiny spacebar on Realforce and HHKB JIS layouts easily enough and that's only 1.25x either side of the middle of "B" (2.5x total). Also the Filco Minila spacebar is 3x, but it's centered quite far to the right (between "B" and "N").

So maybe 1.5x either side could still work, especially with the smaller overall size... Will see next week I guess. I prefer to keep the "EDIT" and "ALT" keys in easy reach of the thumbs to make using the EDIT layer really easy. I find the position of Fn on all 60% boards to be awkward and difficult to use, especially for editing text and would love to have a key in one of these positions rather.
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Offline jacobolus

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #35 on: Fri, 02 January 2015, 12:00:34 »
From a brief poll at the office it's mainly the people who press space with their left thumb that press it further out and could require a larger key or perhaps swapping the 1x and 1.5, since they seem to centre their press around 0.25 into the posiition of "V" from left to right, directly under the divider between "R" and "T".
I press the spacebar directly under the center of the F key. I know people (just from looking around at what parts of the spacebar are shiny) who press the spacebar directly under the center of the J key.
« Last Edit: Fri, 02 January 2015, 12:02:32 by jacobolus »

Offline Oobly

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #36 on: Sat, 03 January 2015, 15:31:53 »
From a brief poll at the office it's mainly the people who press space with their left thumb that press it further out and could require a larger key or perhaps swapping the 1x and 1.5, since they seem to centre their press around 0.25 into the posiition of "V" from left to right, directly under the divider between "R" and "T".
I press the spacebar directly under the center of the F key. I know people (just from looking around at what parts of the spacebar are shiny) who press the spacebar directly under the center of the J key.

Interesting, thank you for your feedback. Well, I have made a little more progress:
86214-0

It's rough and ugly (and flexes in use due to the bendy PCB of the donor board and no plate or case), but functional:
86216-1

Preliminary testing shows that the layout truly suits me, although I'll find out more from others at my office on Monday:
86218-2

(please excuse the potato pics...)

It's very easy for me to use, including the Fn and Edit layers and I'm hesitant to move the EDIT key further out unless it really is necessary, since it's so much more accessible than any other Fn layer key I've ever used and feels very natural. In fact, I'd rather use this board than my 60% for certain tasks already and once I'm more familiar with the layers, I'm convinced it could replace it as my board for work. :D

P.S. - this post was typed in its entirety on the prototype ;) I've also had some great ideas for the case design, including the device holder / cover flap and a swing-out support for the back to help keep the assembly stable. I tried it with Nuclear Green SA Row 3 caps and GMK Dolch and I think the lower profile Dolch actually seems easier to use and both feels and looks good. The SA caps were a bit odd-feeling, despite the fact that SA is my favourite profile. Perhaps it's something to do with the size, but Cherry profile seems to suit it better than SA, which is somehow a bit disppointing to me TBH.
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Offline jdcarpe

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #37 on: Sat, 03 January 2015, 15:55:35 »
You liked the GMK better, because your Nuclear Data SA set is uniform Row 3 profile. :)

Nice little board you have there, Oobly.

Offline Oobly

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #38 on: Sun, 04 January 2015, 15:24:21 »
You liked the GMK better, because your Nuclear Data SA set is uniform Row 3 profile. :)

Nice little board you have there, Oobly.

Could be, could be... but my PuLSE set hasn't arrived yet ;)

Thank you very much, it's a little flexible, but I'm finding it a joy to use.

86343-0
« Last Edit: Sun, 04 January 2015, 15:30:23 by Oobly »
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Offline Oobly

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #39 on: Mon, 05 January 2015, 09:13:31 »
I know some people aren't going to like this idea, but I am seriously considering using ML switches for the next prototype. Considering the use case of this being as compact as possible so it is easy to carry around for those moments of inspiration while still being mechanical and really nice to type on, lubed ML switches are hard to beat.

They feel somewhat like short-throw ErgoClears with the tactility starting right near the top of the stroke. Of course the keycap options are very limited, but SP are able to make keycaps with ML mounts, although the only profile I know of that definitely fits is LP. Their LP caps can be made in PBT with dyesub legends, too. I will enquire if DSA profile can be made to fit ML switches, too. I think they can since the profile document mentions they can be made with 11 different switch mount styles. Just wish they were semi-matte or gloss and not just matte.

The switches would need to be lubed, though, as unlubed new ML switches are even more scratchy than the current batches of MX switches and you can feel it more when typing, too.

There is one style of gloss/semi-matte spherical top keycap for ML switches made by Cherry for the Tandberg company which I would LOVE to use, but I don't think they sell them to the public :( One thing the spherical top caps would help with is off-centre hits which ML seems to be a little more sensitive to than MX (although I'm not sure it's still an issue with lubed switches). And of course it's more typewriter-like:



As always, feedback is welcome. What do you guys think about using lubed ML switches?
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Offline jdcarpe

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #40 on: Mon, 05 January 2015, 09:18:53 »
I think ML are underrated. Keycap options are somewhat limited, though, which is the main reason I don't incorporate them into my projects.

Offline jacobolus

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #41 on: Mon, 05 January 2015, 12:38:15 »
I definitely want to make a folding ML keyboard at some point. Should be possible to get it very compact.

MLs are really bad about off-center presses (ML keys with stabilizers work much better than ones without, because the stabilizer forces the key to press straight down) and I think those Tandberg caps might help substantially.
« Last Edit: Mon, 05 January 2015, 12:40:45 by jacobolus »

Offline CPTBadAss

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #42 on: Wed, 07 January 2015, 07:07:49 »
Really into that board Oobly. It's so cute and I love how it was spurred from the Hemmingwrite discussion.
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Offline vivalarevolución

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #43 on: Wed, 07 January 2015, 12:44:51 »
I know some people aren't going to like this idea, but I am seriously considering using ML switches for the next prototype. Considering the use case of this being as compact as possible so it is easy to carry around for those moments of inspiration while still being mechanical and really nice to type on, lubed ML switches are hard to beat.

They feel somewhat like short-throw ErgoClears with the tactility starting right near the top of the stroke. Of course the keycap options are very limited, but SP are able to make keycaps with ML mounts, although the only profile I know of that definitely fits is LP. Their LP caps can be made in PBT with dyesub legends, too. I will enquire if DSA profile can be made to fit ML switches, too. I think they can since the profile document mentions they can be made with 11 different switch mount styles. Just wish they were semi-matte or gloss and not just matte.

The switches would need to be lubed, though, as unlubed new ML switches are even more scratchy than the current batches of MX switches and you can feel it more when typing, too.

There is one style of gloss/semi-matte spherical top keycap for ML switches made by Cherry for the Tandberg company which I would LOVE to use, but I don't think they sell them to the public :( One thing the spherical top caps would help with is off-centre hits which ML seems to be a little more sensitive to than MX (although I'm not sure it's still an issue with lubed switches). And of course it's more typewriter-like:

Show Image


As always, feedback is welcome. What do you guys think about using lubed ML switches?


Personally, I have my complaints about caps with that stepped structure.  I used Apple IIGS boards for awhile, and I found those types of caps seem to slow down my typing speed.  Maybe it was the smaller surface area for my fingers to feel around on.  But the Apple IIGS keyboard has different switches than ML, so maybe it will different.

Lubed ML's are not bad compared to stock ML, but could they be lubed out the box?  Or is this something the user has to do?
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Offline Oobly

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #44 on: Thu, 08 January 2015, 03:02:26 »
They don't come lubed from the factory, so they have to be lubed either by the end user or the keyboard maker :) I would do the lubing for small production runs and will investigate how a trampoline mod feels with these switches as soon as I get some. I have heard they are a bit quieter than MX switches on bottom out already, though. Will have to wait until I have a G84 so I can test for myself. I think the spring strength is fine from what I've read, so I don't think I'd need to also do spring swaps.

The 1.5x keys have stabilisers. This may prove to be a little difficult, though, as I am having trouble finding sources for ML stabilisers.

I found out that SP makes 2 types of LP caps, Family11 and Family13. Both are 4.6mm tall, same keytop width, but the Family 13 are a little smaller edge to edge. The biggest difference, though, is that Family13 can be doubleshot (ABS and / or PC) and finished semi-matte :) I found an example from an SP crap bag here: https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=46495.msg999188#msg999188



Family11 can be PBT dyesub, but Family13 doesn't have a PBT option. I'll try to get some quotes from SP.
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Offline Oobly

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #45 on: Fri, 09 January 2015, 01:59:09 »
Well I've ordered a pair of used G84's from Germany. Design work continues...

The layout works well. I have yet to find someone who is not comfortable with the Space / Fn button positions and sizes (I suspect due to the smaller overall size of the board and people's resulting hand positions / angles) and the EDIT key is very easy to use and convenient, too. I will continue passing the board around and garnering opinions and feedback.

For coding I find having the numbers on a Fn layer a mild irritation, but for prose / other text it works amazingly well and I'm quite used to symbol positions already, so the layout seems to suit the primary use case well.

I also remember having some irritation with the Apple IIc keyboard a long time ago, probably also due to the stepped caps, so perhaps it's not so bad that I can't get them.

At the moment I am leaning towards using doubleshot Family13 LP caps from SP if I can get a reasonable quote for them. I have redesigned the layout to show the numbers and primary symbols on the keycaps (so the "." key shows both "." and "/" instead of "." and ">", "T" shows "T" and "5" which means you have to remember what will show when you use Shift), so it's easier to find them, but I'm not sure if it's a good idea since the board should be fully programmable. I think the Fn layout is very logical and functional, though, and it's really nice to have the legends to help confirm a number / symbol before you press it... Anyone has thoughts / opinions on this? I will post the layout mockup when I get home today (it's on my home laptop only).
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Offline suicidal_orange

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #46 on: Fri, 09 January 2015, 02:27:49 »
I like the idea of having keycaps that match what will happen but
Quote
the "." key shows both "." and "/" instead of "." and ">", "T" shows "T" and "5" which means you have to remember what will show when you use Shift
worries me slightly - shouldn't shift and t be T and an FN key be used for 5?  Can you get layer 2 legends top left and layer 3 top right (assuming layer 1 is no FN key used) of the top of the cap?  That would be clearest, if they can make it.

As long as the board is made available without the keys it's up to the buyer.  Your target market is writers not "geeks" so it's unlikely they would want to play about with layouts and would leave it stock, while we would rather not have stock keycaps so could buy our own - everyone wins :)
                               
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Offline jacobolus

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #47 on: Fri, 09 January 2015, 04:09:50 »
By the way, Oobly, you saw this layout idea right?

https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=59396

As a minimal one-piece flat board, this is still a bit bigger than your proposal here, but I found that it’s actually very comfortable to type on: dramatically better for me than a standard layout board, while being relatively easy to learn coming from a standard layout.

If it ditched the goal of fitting in an existing 60% footprint, then the keys in the top right and top left corner, the key in the middle, and the arrows / nav keys in the bottom corners could all be ditched, and it could be even a bit more compact.
« Last Edit: Fri, 09 January 2015, 04:13:33 by jacobolus »

Offline Oobly

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #48 on: Fri, 09 January 2015, 05:11:04 »
@suicidal_orange: Thank you for for feedback. I believe a picture will make things clearer, so here is the mockup:

86760-0

Still playing with the colours, I quite like how the Dolch looked with the darker side modifiers, so I've also made a layout like that: http://www.keyboard-layout-editor.com/#/layouts/c13a7cb351ced433142d3418d35e6ab9

I'm showing only the unshifted characters (although the letters are capitals) to at least show where to find a particular symbol. When I tried to show more symbols on the keys (it's possible to use 5 on each, four on the top and one front-printed) it started to look way too cluttered and I believe it detracts from the purpose then, by making it harder to find the symbol you want amongst the jungle of printed characters. Doing it this way requires that the user is familiar with what characters match the unshifted ones, but I think it may be a good compromise. For instance, most people know that "=" and "+" are on the same key, likewise "[" and "{" or "/" and "?". Having "." and "/" on that one key may be the most confusing example, though, since it actually prints ".", ">", "/" and "?".

Perhaps I should offer it with either those caps or a set with only the default layer characters for those who will alter the Fn and EDIT layouts. I'm not sure that offering it without caps would be a good option (assuming I do use ML switches), since aftermarket ML keycaps are fairly rare.

@jacobolus: That's a really nice compact ergo layout and I may consider using something like that in a future version of the keyboard, however (quoting myself):

"It's not the primary goal of this project to make something more ergonomic than a standard board, although I am keeping ergonomics in mind for all the changes from standard layout that I'm doing and due the compactness and design decisions it WILL be more ergonomic to use than a standard board.
The primary goal is familiarity along with compactness and ease of use. It must be something that immediately feels good to use and simply allows the user to get their thoughts down without getting in the way."

I do want to release my ergo board as a product sometime and a compact ergo would be a great companion product, but this product needs to be familiar and comfortable straight from the box. It must be immediately usable. I believe a vertical stagger layout is too steep a barrier of entry for this particular device, although I'd love to use a similar layout to yours on a future compact ergo board.

It's already a risk buying a new type of product and users will only take so many risks on a new startup product. The bottom row is enough of a difference to differentiate the product from other similar ones and make it easier to use, while not presenting too great a barrier of entry for the user and therefore also, hopefully, not too great a risk.

I believe the transition to better ergonomic keyboards is going to be a slow process, with acceptance in the market being a key factor. If a company releases a good product that shows they know how to make a good keyboard and how users want to use their boards, there is more of a chance they will try a more radical design from them in future. So releasing a desktop ergo after a "normal" compact will be a good strategy. As would be then releasing a compact ergo after the desktop one.

As always, feedback about the colours and well, anything really is much appreciated.
« Last Edit: Fri, 09 January 2015, 05:17:11 by Oobly »
Buying more keycaps,
it really hacks my wallet,
but I must have them.

Offline suicidal_orange

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Re: Writer's portable keyboard
« Reply #49 on: Fri, 09 January 2015, 17:48:51 »
@Oobly - So T = t, shift+T = T, FN+T = 5 and shift+FN+T = %? that makes sense.  I was thinking that as you have both FN and EDIT layers one large letter at the bottom and two small symbols at the top as in the attached pic wouldn't be too cluttered (left = FN right = EDIT, to match key positions) but that's not possible for some reason.  And I can't actually think of 52 required keys to use the letters twice, let alone 78+ so that's probably pointless.  What are you using the other layer for, is it really any use for a writer or would a bigger spacebar be more useful?

I had somehow forgotten the ML switch part so yes, stock keycaps are a necessity and having two options sounds good.  As to the colours I'd be tempted to say darker would be better for a portable, my thinking being whether it's in a bag or being used outside there's more chance it will get dirty than a board used at home and pale looks dirty quicker.  Having four random keys dark looks a bit strange so prefer the extra dark mods in the linked mock-up, but not backspace as it ruins the symmetry.

Note:  I'm not a writer.  It's very possible that writers are more careful but I understand the point of this is to be able to write when inspiration strikes, clean hands or not.
                               
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