The keyboard: it’s a daily tool that’s become ingrained in our work, our gaming and our communication. But the basic fundamentals of a PC keyboard haven’t changed substantially. Ergonomics have improved, the locations of specialty keys have been slightly tweaked, but for the most part PC users have adapted to the traditional layout of a keyboard, rather than the keyboard adapting to our workflows and various needs. Fresh off the announcement that it will design its own laptops in-house, Pop!_OS developer System76 is take the same approach with keyboards.
The company announced its plans this week via the System76 blog with the following rallying cry: “you should be able to change it in any way that suits your needs.”
In our research, we’ve found that spacebars typically, for example, are way too long, which means your strongest digit, your thumb, isn’t very useful. Most of the time you use your pinkie because what’s out there is the extremities – so we wanted to change that. We wanted a better layout.
“We wanted to apply those types of ideas to make a keyboard more useful for everyone,” says System76 CEO Carl Richell.
The substantial changes (at least the ones we know about) to the traditional keyboard layout so far include the splitting of the spacebar to assign one of its buttons to another task like Enter or Backspace. System76 is also ditching the number pad so that your mouse will be closer to you.
This announcement gets really interesting when you factor in two other ongoing projects at System76: an i3-like tiling window manager (an historically keyboard-driven affair) for the Gnome desktop, and the reveal that it’s designing its own laptops in-house. Could this custom keyboard make it onto those devices?
And given the fact that System76 has brought design, manufacturing, hardware and OS development all under its own roof in Colorado, could each keyboard be customized explicitly for the customer’s needs? My gut says yes, and I’m super excited about it.
The company is aiming for a final release late Summer 2020 and I’ve no doubt we’ll hear more details by then.
Note that the images shown in this article are early prototypes. “The keycaps were what we had that fit, and the legends on them aren’t completely accurate,” the company says. “Mostly the space bars. If people see “shift” and “backspace” but no space, they might get the wrong idea.’”