Second Class Macs & Road Apples

Apple Adjustable Keyboard


Dan Knight - 1998.04.10

Second Class Macs are Apple's somewhat compromised hardware designs. For the most part, they're not really bad - simply designs that didn't meet their full potential. (On our rating scale, the more brown apples, the worse the hardware.)

It was the era of ergonomic keyboards.

Years of working with conventional keyboards were producing a rash of repetitive stress injuries, some keyboard and computer manufacturers were being sued for poor keyboard design, and everyone was trying to invent a better keyboard. In this case, better meant one that wouldn't cause carpal tunnel syndrome and would keep you out of court.

Introduced in 1992, the Apple Adjustable Keyboard was hinged at the top, allowing the user to adjust the angle between the right and left sides of the keyboard. The split came between the following key pairs: 5/6, T/Y, G/H, and B/N. The space bar floated midway between the two parts. It also came with contoured plastic wrist rests.

Other innovations included volume buttons and a record button on the right side of the keyboard and a completely separate (and optional) auxiliary keyboard which could be connected to either end of the main keyboard.

Although the Adjustable Keyboard addressed some ergonomic problems, it introduced new problems. Function keys were completely absent from the main keyboard, relegated to the auxiliary keyboard with the cursor and navigation (home, end, etc.) keys and the numeric keypad. The F-keys became poorly marked buttons. The Esc key was a small button on the left end of the main keyboard.

The adjustable keyboard with its palm rests took up as much room as a regular keyboard with a wrist rest, but the real problem was finding room for the auxiliary keyboard. It occupied a lot of real estate, especially since it had to be far enough from the keyboard for the ADB cable that connected them.

Worst, the Adjustable Keyboard is less reliable than any Apple keyboard before or since. I work for a company with three of these keyboards. On average each one has been replaced once a year under AppleCare. For comparison, out of 60-70 conventional Apple keyboards, we have one or two replaced per year.

Today the adjustable keyboard is history. Of the several ergonomic keyboards available for the Mac now, none are hinged and all have function keys, cursor keys, navigation keys, and a numeric keypad as standard features. A few even include a trackpad, trackball, or alternative cursor controller.

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