When Apple introduced the new aluminum iMac, it sported a new aluminum keyboard, reminiscent of the integrated short-stroke keyboard in the new MacBooks.
Is this new keyboard good, bad, or just pretty? Is Apple going for style over substance or does the keyboard offer something revolutionary?
A new keyboard, like a new mouse, takes some getting used to. It’s often a matter of taste, and there’s not been much difference in the taste of keyboards, Mac or PC, for a few years. I’ve been using the previous plastic Apple keyboard for a few years and consider it very good.
I’m not a keyboard expert, but I bounce from machine to machine, Mac, to PCs, to Linux PC, desktops to laptops, all day long, and I’ve been keyboarding at around 70 wpm since the earliest Mac in 1984, so my opinion should be qualified.
I tried out the keyboard at the local Apple Store when the first new iMacs arrived. They didn’t have the new keyboard in stock from the introduction, so I ordered one from the Apple Store online. $49. It took a week to arrive.
If you like your Macs keyboard and are not compelled to change, don’t. If you’re after keyboard optimization (meaning; faster, easier, more productive keyboarding), then try the new aluminum keyboard.
Just remember that anything new, replacing what we use the most (mouse and keyboard) requires some effort to overcome previous habits and tastes and preferences, to reach a point where we can really appreciate the not-so-subtle differences Apple built in.
The aluminum keyboard is somewhat similar to iMovie 8. If you’re new to the Mac, iMovie 8 is a great—it’s actually easier to edit movies and construct a movie than the old iMovie.
If you’re a long time iMovie 6.x user, you’ll feel as if Apple took about six steps backwards. What were they thinking? Progress.
After use, iMovie ‘08 is notably easier to create simple, attractive movies. If you need time code, and more effects and transitions, and easier character generation, move up to FinalCut Express or Pro and stop grumbling.
So it is with the new aluminum keyboard. It has a fully different feel from the older, plastic keyboard. The keys don’t feel as if they travel as far, hence the short-stroke description. The keys appear to be closer together which makes typing, initially, cumbersome.
There are more function keys, and some keys have been moved to different locations. They keys are a firm plastic, the keyboard base is a thin slab of aluminum. To the left and right, near the end of the keyboard, are two USB 2.0 connectors.
There are document navigation controls, such as Page Up, Page Down, etc. The CD/DVD Eject key has been moved to the middle part of the Function keys. That’s odd, but is easy enough to get used to.
There are key combinations for brightness, play/pause, Expose’, volume, eject, and so on. The icons on the keys are typical Apple—understated and easy to remember.
The keyboard comes in two flavors, wired and wireless, via Bluetooth. The wireless keyboard is not as long but slightly wider and costs $30 more. I’m not into wireless so my testing and use is done on the wired keyboard.
Apple’s online promotional copy that describes the keyboard uses terms such as “elegant anodized aluminum enclosure, the Apple Keyboard looks equally at home in your living room or on your desk.”
That’s style over substance. There’s also copy which states that they keyboard “has low-profile keys that provide a crisp, responsive feel and function keys for one-touch access to Mac features.”
That’s substance over style. Apple is aiming for both and achieved both. Despite the re-arranged function keys, it’s the “feel” of the keyboard that makes it more revolutionary than evolutionary. The feel takes a few days to become accustomed to, but the wait and effort is worth it.
What happens? The aluminum keyboard does the same thing as OS X does, as the Mac in general does, as most well-constructed Mac tools and utilities do—get out of the way.
After three days of use I found myself typing a bit faster, a little more accurately, and with less strain on my fingers than the older Mac plastic keyboard.
Why? I’m not an expert, and I don’t have carpal tunnel syndrome, but this keyboard not only feels better, it seems to cause less strain on my fingers. There’s a bit less motion required, less hand movement, and the keyboard becomes more of a fingertip extension. Your mileage may vary.
The function key arrangement may be the most disconcerting change. Whenever keys are not where you want them to be, the comfort level dissipates. The Media keys, F7, F8, F9 control iTunes. When you put in a DVD and bring it to the front, the same keys control the DVD.
If the proof is in the taste of the pudding, the proof of the keyboard’s quality will show over time. After one week I was sufficiently impressed with the new keyboard, that I bought another one for my other desktop Mac. Going from the aluminum model back to plastic was a drastic and unwanted change.
That’s how Apple does it. We get treated to something new and better and it’s tough to go back. Contrast that with the few million Windows users who switched to Macs each year. How often do we hear of someone abandoning the Mac for Windows?