Ode to the White Keyboard

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In 1980 I bought my first personal computer in Montreal. There were three choices, the TRS-80, the TI-99, and the Apple][+. One of the deciding factors was the keyboard.

The Apple ][+ and TRS-80 both had keyboards similar to a Selectric typewriter, the gold standard of the day for keyboards. The TI-99 had a Chiclet-like keyboard. Actually they were more like TicTacs  than Chiclets. In the end I went for the Apple.

I loved my Apple keyboard because it looked like a professional typewriter keyboard. The absurdity of this is revealed as I admit to never learning to touch type. I have been and continue to be a professional hunt and peck typist. I must look at my keyboard to type. With the wind at my back I can get almost 30 words a minute assuming auto-correct is working well.

When I moved over to the IBM PC they too came with a typewriter style keyboard. This maintained my illusion that I was typing like the big boys now. The first keyboards were beige with black lettering. Over time beige went out of favour and everyone went black. But as I got older I started to notice problems with my typing. I was making errors more frequently. Was I getting old and therefore suffering from diminished capacity?

Five years ago I got my first Apple Macintosh, an Apple MacBook. I won a lottery at school and received a $500 subsidy towards the purchase of a new computer. That was my incentive to buy the overpriced Mac. Only one thing troubled me, it had a white Chicklet-like keyboard. Unlike the TI-99 the keys were now all square and the same size as a regular keyboard.

To my surprise I adapted to the keyboard quite rapidly. My error rate when typing dropped. I didn’t miss the sculpted feel of the usual Windows PC keyboard. So the answer to my problem was Chiclets or so I thought.

I hate great big keyboards. One day I came across a wired Microsoft keyboard that was quite svelte and it was in white with black lettering on the keys. My current Windows PC keyboard was quite grungy and in the consumer society tradition of throwing something out when it just gets dirty I replaced my then current keyboard with the white Microsoft one. It had sculpted keys. Lo and behold my error rate on the PC improved.

Why did my error rate decrease? The answer, I believe is contrast and brightness. Likely due to age I find I need more light to see things clearly. My workspace has a room light. I also have a strong desk lamp that I use when I write on paper or do any work on small components. But when I work on the computer a strong light shines in my eyes while I type and look at the monitor so I keep the lamp turned off. A white keyboard with black lettering reflects more light such that the glow from the monitor is enough to illuminate the keyboard. The contrast of black letters on a white background are easier for me to read.

The school assigned me a MacBook Pro two years ago and it has a black keyboard that has LED lights that make the letters glow. Not bad in a bright room but glowing keys are uncomfortable in a low light situation. I bought a small Apple Bluetooth keyboard for my MacBook Pro for use in my office and it has white keys.

My white Microsoft keyboard eventually became unusable as it only came with a PS2 connector. So I was forced to go back to black keyboards. I see the appeal of these keyboards. They can get much dirtier before it becomes noticeable. I need to clean my white Apple keyboards every few weeks. A black keyboard can go months and be responsible for any number of epidemics in my household and office.

A few weeks ago I decided to see if there was any white PC keyboards available. Logitech had one that had white Chiclet keys against a black background. I found that too harsh on the eyes. They had another line that had a white background but had an artistic pattern that covered half the keyboard and so was a distraction. They even have a backlit keyboard with black keys but I already knew that was not the solution.

Then I found it! Newegg.ca [correction: previous version had wrong retailer] had a keyboard from the company iRocks, the KR-6402 in white. It looks like the full sized Apple Bluetooth keyboard. The surface is aluminium and the keys are the white Chiclet-style. This means less contrast between the keys and the keyboard background. It is full size so it has a numeric keypad and cursor keypad. Ii is thin and has a very thin frame around the keys. It is wired but that allows it to have a USB hub with two ports. It even has the Windows multimedia and application shortcut keys.

So here I sit, updating my blog for the first time in three years. Its dim in my basement office as the sun has moved over to the other side of my house. But I don’t need to turn on a light yet. I can see my keyboard as clear as day.


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About Ken

I am the Program Coordinator and Chairperson of the Computer Science Technology program at Dawson College in Montreal, Canada. I am also a Program Consultant to and part-time instructor in the Computer Institute of Concordia University's School of Extended Learning.

2 thoughts on “Ode to the White Keyboard

  1. Sil

    Interesting, I never really liked black keyboards and wondered why. Now, I guess, I know: it’s all about the contrast.

    Can’t believe you got into the Apple “cult”. 😉 I’m a member too.

  2. Ken Post author

    Except for a desktop I run the whole stack of Apple. But when it comes down to doing serious work on my MacBook I use Windows 8 under Fusion on it.

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