31 Weird & Fun Facts About Computer Keyboards You Didn't Know About


by Sebastian Kończak August 27, 2015 3 Comments





We look at keyboard many times in a day and usually we don't think about how they work and why they look like they look. If you live in the United States, UK or - for example - Poland, your keyboard is most likely an ordinary QWERTY with nothing weird on it. But some keyboards in the world are really strange and look very different from what we are accustomed to ...

1. The Canadian "snow mode" key

The french canadian keyboard layout is used in french-speaking parts of Canada, mainly the Quebec region. It features the "snow mode" key, with snowflake icon next to Ctrl caption. It looks funny, because we usually tend to associate Canada with winter time (although it's the same stereotype that all Italians eat pasta only). The truth is, the icon graphically represent the Ctrl (Control) key and nothing more. It was established by ACNOR in the first canadian keyboard layout, which was later copied by computer manufacturers, including Apple for its French Canadian layout.

Canadian ACNOR keyboard

The ACNOR keyboard. Photo from Wikipedia.org

2. The shortest space keys are found in... Japan

Space is the longest key on every keyboard, but in Japan the statistical Spacebar is much shorter than in any other place on Earth. Why? Because japanese keyboards require switching between latin/roman letters (called rōmaji) and japanese characters (called hiragana and kana). To do that switching, additional keys are required. They are placed next to Space. In the result, japanese keyboards look like this:

Japanese Macbook keyboard

Japanese MacBook keyboard. Photo (c) Hosikawafuzi @ Wikipedia.org

3. When you hit spacebar, 600000 people in the world did just the same

Talking about the space, it's not only the longest key, but also the most used one. Without the space, it would be hardtoreadthisarticle, don't you think? According to this YouTube video by Vsauce, when you type, 18% of all keyboard hits goes to spacebar. You also don't type alone, ever. From doing math, it turns out that in every 1/10th of a second on Earth, spacebar is hit 600,000 times. So when you hit the space, you're doing it at the exact time as 600,000 other people. Wow :)

Keyboard typing

Photo (c) William Iven @ Unsplash.com

4. QWERTY is not the most efficient keyboard layout

We tend to think that QWERTY keyboard layout is the most efficient because it's so widespreadly used. Nothing can be more wrong. So why keyboard starts with QWERTY and not, for example, ABCDE? QWERTY layout was invented by Christopher Sholes in 1872 for his new typewriter design (of course there was no computers these days). It turns out that when you would place keys in alphabetical order, people would type so fast, that the mechanical parts (so called hammers) would jam. Sholes came with the idea that in order to slow people down, you need to mess with the layout. QWERTY is also constructed that way to minimize the neighbouring keystrokes - which too - jammed the hammers. As the computers took place of typewriters, the QWERTY was already a legacy that was uncritically adopted.

Typewriter

Photo (c) Dustin Lee @ Unsplash.com

5. Mini-keyboards

These keyboards use only few keys to type full range of possible characters. But how is that possible? Instead of typing one character with one key (like on the normal keyboard), in chorded keyboard you're using chords (like on the piano). This way you can type much more characters than there's physical keys. Chorded keyboards are used mainly by visually impaired (Braille versions) and in situations where normal keyboard is useless.

Frogpad chorded keyboard

FrogPad chorded keyboard. Photo by Hustvedt @ Wikipedia.ord

6. Dirty keyboards

Do you know that your keyboard may contain more germs than toilet seat? A study conducted by UK scientists found out that four out of 33 keyboards tested were potential health hazards, and one had levels of germs five times higher than that found on the toilet seat. Some keyboards in office buildings even had mice droppings in them! How to prevent this situation? Wash your hands and clean keyboard the right way.

7. Keyboard from space

Space Cadet keyboard was designed by Tom Knight for the MIT Lisp machines back in the 70's. It looks like taken straight from Star Trek. The keyboard is known for it's elongated look and abundance of modifier keys, with names such as Super, Meta, Terminal, Status and Hyper. Name "Space Cadet" came from a title of 1948 science-fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein. Now you can have stylized version of this keyboard on your MacBook, using these keyboard decals.

Space Cadet Keyboard

Space Cadet keyboard. Photo by Dave Fischer @ Wikipedia.org

8. Fashion for keyboards

There is an ongoing trend for the last couple of years, especially among young people, to decorate their laptop keyboards (and whole laptops) with vinyl stickers. These stickers are subject to fashion, have trending colors or patterns, like Stardust or Washi tape. There are few global brands that specializes in such products, among them Keyshorts, of which I am the co-founder. You can see some of the MacBook keyboard decals on our website.

Van Gogh Starry Night keyboard decal

9. Keys that are (rather) useless but still on keyboards today

There are four keys on majority of modern keyboards that are legacy from the ancient times of computers. Here we'll focus on three of them:

 

  • System Request is often abbreviated SysRq or Sys Req. The origin of this key dates back to 1980, when IBM computers typically ran few operating systems. System Request was designed to switch between them. Since then, the key has no purpose. Today it is rarely used in software testing and programming on Windows system.
  • Print Screen (usually placed in conjunction with System Request), often abbreviated PrtScr or PrntScrn. It's original purpose was to capture the screen and print it on paper. Today it's used to capture the screen and save it to clipboard.
  • Pause/Break key have it's predecessor in 19th century telegraph, where electrical circuit had to break in certain moment. Today, the key has no real meaning and it's used in keyboard shortcuts and few games. Pause functionality works in terminal environments to pause the execution of command or program, but is rarely used almost exclusively by programmers.

 

10. Bilingual keyboards

Many people and businesses communicate in two or more languages. Translators need bilingual keyboards to easily type in one of selected keyboard layout. People who have families in two different countries often need bilingual keyboards to write emails or chat on Facebook in two languages. Businesses (especially in customer service departments) must communicate with customers who speak foreign languages.

All those people need special keyboards. Of course keyboards are simply produced this way, many layouts are bilingual by default (eg. korean, arabic, japanese), but still, the possibilities are limited and the cost is higher than normal keyboard. That's why people use bilingual stickers for keyboards, which simply expand the functionality for a reasonable price. Plus, you can change them over time to something different.

Arabic bilingual keyboard

English - Arabic bilingual stickers for Mac

11. The mysterious Scroll Lock

Scroll Lock (abbreviated ScrLk) is the fourth of rather useless keys on modern keyboards, but it deserves it's own place on the list. Why? Because it never really had any particular function (!). It supposed to lock page scrolling with arrow keys, but since its introduction it never worked that way. Today it is very rarely used, mainly as a part of keyboard shortcuts. 

12. The father of all modern keyboards

The model M, produced by IBM and Lexmark starting in 1984, is the father of modern day keyboard. It introduced separated numeric section, separated arrow keys, and the separate row of function keys. It is considered the most universal computer keyboard design and is still in use today.

IBM model M keyboard

IBM model M keyboard. Photo by Raymangold22 @ Wikipedia.org

13. Editing keyboards

There are special keyboards for professional use in movie studios, design agencies and music studios. These are called editing keyboards. Keys in such keyboards contain additional information and icons which refer to app or environment the keyboard is used in. For example, there are keyboards for movie editing software, such as Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro. Cheaper and more versatile option is keyboard stickers for apps, which are installed on regular keyboards.

Keyboard stickers for Logic Pro

Keyboard stickers for Logic Pro software

14. Dvorak keyboard layout

The first man to question the QWERTY layout was August Dvorak, who created and patented his layout in 1936. Dvorak layout allegedly incorporate less finger movement which lead to faster typing speed and reduced repetitive strain injuries. There is an ongoing debate whether these claims are true or not. While Dvorak layout is still a niche, most of operating systems (including Windows, Mac OS X and Linux) give user the ability to change keyboard layout to Dvorak. Some keyboard decals we talked about earlier can be designed in Dvorak layout. Today, Dvorak is used mainly by geeks, programmers, and typists.

Dvorak layout for MacBook

Dvorak layout (US English variant) for MacBook

15. Keyboard computers

You don't see them now, but in the 80's and early 90's keyboard computers (computers that fit inside bulky keyboard) was common in people's homes. Commodore 64 and Amiga 500 was notable examples, although they were popular mostly in Europe. In the mid 90's they were dethroned by the PCs.

Amiga 600

Amiga 600 keyboard computer. Photo by Alex Jones @ Wikipedia.org

16. The fastest typist on Earth

Is statistically a woman (typist was and is a strongly feminine occupation). Currently, the official world record is held by Barbara Blackburn (typing in english). Unofficially, Sean Wrona set the world record for typing over a minute and 50 minutes intervals. You can see him typing for the record on YouTube. There is an ongoing debate as to how to measure typing speed, because it depends on language, keyboard layout and the keyboard itself. Many of the fastest typist on earth use Dvorak layout.

17. Typewriter

The word Typewriter can be typed using only top row on QWERTY keyboards. Some speculate that QWERTY inventor - Christopher Sholes - did that on purpose as a kind of demo back in the 19th century.

18. Typewriter and keyboard early adopters

Today we have early adopters in technology gadgets - people that are ahead of rest of us in using a cool, new stuff. But early adopters were always there. Most notable early adopter of typewriter was Mark Twain, who wrote his Life on the Mississippi in 1883 (although probably he just dictated to the typist). One of the early adopter of using computer to write his books was Douglas Adams (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency written on Macintosh in 1987). In contrast, one of the most praised sci-fi writer of all time - Stanislaw Lem, never learned how to use computer.

19. Ergonomic keyboards

Because long periods of typing on regular keyboard can lead to strains and is generally detrimental to your health, ergonomic keyboards were discovered. Usually they feature split-keyboard layout with slightly tilted surfaces to accommodate hand anatomy.

Ergonomic keyboard

Example of ergonomic keyboard. Photo by Hustvedt @ Wikipedia.org

20. Gaming keyboards

Another type of ergonomic keyboards are these used by gamers. They can feature additional keys and gizmos that relate to particular game or common games activities.

Playstation 3 keypad

PlayStation 3 gaming keypad. Photo by William Hook @ Wikipedia.org via Flickr

21. CTRL ALT DEL

Is a famous keyboard shortcut to soft reboot or bring a Close Program dialog on Windows. The idea for soft rebooting via keyboard came from David Bradley (IBM). This shortcut was chosen for safety reasons, to avoid accidental trigger. Ctrl Alt Del was chosen because it was impossible to hold this combination with one hand on the IBM PC 5150 keyboard.

22. More than one national layout

Many countries have more than one national keyboard layout. In most of these countries one layout is overwhelmingly more common than the other (Turkey, Poland). In other countries, there are few equivalent layouts: in South Korea there are few Hangul layouts. Chinese use Traditional, Simplified, Cantonese and Taiwanese variants. India has one layout (called InScript) for all its official languages: hindi, bengali, gujarati, gurmukhi, kannada, malayalam, oriya, tamil and telugu.

23. The longest words to type with one hand

On QWERTY keyboard, these are stewardesses (among other 12-letter words) for left hand, and polyphony for the right hand. According to this research, Dvorak layout can produce 14-letter words with only left hand used, for example overemphasized.

24. All hail the QWERTY

First email ever sent contained the qwertyuiop, all letters from the top row of QWERTY keyboard. As Ryan Tomlinson (the man who did it) explained, he just needed something to put in the email to test if it's working.

There is a planetoid called (6600) Qwerty, which was discovered in 1988.

The qwerty is also one of the most commonly used passwords on earth. Don't use it.

25. The only keyboard where to type period, you need to ...

Press Shift + ;

No, really. In French keyboards to type . you have to hit Shift + semicolon. I can't imagine the reasoning behind placing such commonly used character in shift position, but that's not the only thing that makes french keyboards so unique - you'll learn some of the quirks later.

26. Italian brackets

Another strange way to get common character is to type brackets on italian keyboards. To type { or }, you have to use Shift + Alt + è and Shift + Alt + plus sign respectively. Crazy. Probably that's why Italian coders use US english layout for their keyboards (they use brackets a lot).

27. Upside down numeric section

There are 3 keyboard layouts in the world, where numeric keys contain digits in shift position. These layouts are used in France, Belgium and Czech Republic. "Normal" QWERTY layout have digits in lower position, so hitting 1 key gives 1. In these special layouts to type 1, you must hit Shift + 1. Imagine quick calculations on computer... mission impossible.

Macbook czech keyboard layout

Czech layout (in blue and yellow) in comparison with standard QWERTY (white).

28. The only keyboard monument in the world

Yes, someone actually made a monument for QWERTY keyboard. To be specific, it is located in the city of Yekaterinburg, Russia. It's called "Pamyatnik Klaviature" and made of stone, with grass growing between the keys. Local people make wishes by jumping from key to key. When they want to reset their lives, they jump CTRL ALT DEL.

29. The most efficient keyboard layout in the world ...

is called Turkish F. It was designed by İhsan Sıtkı Yener in 1955. He used scientific methods to measure letter frequencies in turkish language to compose a keyboard layout that would be fast to use. Also, this layout provides almost ideal balance between two hands when typing. With Turkish F this country has broken 14 world records in typewriting championships between 1957 and 1995. Strangely, Turkish F is not the most commonly used layout in Turkey. The Turkish Q (adaptation of standard QWERTY layout) won because of ubiquity. MacBook turkish layout is also Turkish Q, not F.

30. The most complicated keyboards in the world

East Asian countries has by far the most complicated keyboards in the world. Because there are so many languages, dialects and alphabets that span sometimes hundreds of characters, most of Chinese, Indian, Thai or Japanese keyboards have 3 or 4 letters on each key. These letters are then accessed by using modifier keys, where the Japanese keyboards are the most complex example. 

31. The most difficult typing in the world

That title belongs to japanese and chinese keyboards. In QWERTY keyboard when you hit keys, you get letters on screen. Things are not so simple in China and Japan. You need to use special input methods, where you type simplified characters or latinized version of the word you like to type, and then the language driver shows you the proper words you can use. Besides, japanese layout on Mac OS X has the most options to set up from the whole list of 50+ layouts available in that system.

Bonus: The most strange (for some people) keyboard layout

That's French. Not only you have to hit Shift + ; to get a period, but there are more unbelievable quirks. Digits are accessed with Shift pressed down. Layout isn't even compatible with the officially recognized french standards. A single key was designated for letter ù, which occurs in only one french word - (where). At the same time, the œ is missing, despite being in common use in french language. The guillemets (french quotation marks) are missing. When you want to get ¦, you'll get | instead. That's why French Culture Ministry started work on new national layout in 2016.

That's it, thirty one (plus one) weird and fun facts about computer keyboards you didn't know about, but now you do. If you enjoyed this article, share it with the world - look right :-}



Sebastian Kończak

Author

Multi-discipline man and co-founder at Keyshorts.com. I write about business automations, ecommerce, keyboards, and Adobe software tutorials.



3 Responses

Sabine Kroeber
Sabine Kroeber

March 08, 2017

I’m teaching an after school keyboarding class and we always watch a few videos and learn about fun keyboarding facts. I love this article and now posted a link to it on my website. So many cool things to explore! And can you imagine how excited third graders are when they hear their keyboards might harbor more germs than toilets? Yes… Thank you!

Martin
Martin

August 25, 2016

The upside down number are not just Czech. It is a Central European standard to accomodate specific leters commonly used in the languages. So the keyboard layout is done with havign text typing in mind before using the numbers. We, entra Europeans are used to having the numpad for numbers and the number rows for ours ľščťžýáíé ;o]

Norm
Norm

April 11, 2016

As a piano player from age 5, I was the 2nd-fastest typist at 102 words/min.on the old mechanical typewriters in high school, back in the day. I lost in competition to a girl in class, at 103 words/min. Today my qwerty laptop keyboard fits me just fine-not that anyone cares. LOL

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