The computer industry has two target markets: on one hand, the computer industry manufactors consumer electronics, a fancy word for flashy toys for those with disposable money. The other market the computer industry markets to is Information Technology professionals, and power users, both people who see computing equipment as vital infrastructure, and who are knowledgable about the utility, rather than the appearence, of what they are buying. This dichotomy of purpose can even be seen in the keyboard, one of the most unexciting of periphreals.
The keyboard I am using now has the same layout and functionality of the keyboard on my first computer, although there has been some minor changes over the years, mostly dealing with changes in key shape and size. But for the most part, people don't want to relearn how to type, so companies that make keyboards must make them generically, but at the same time, must somehow make them different to capture impress consumers.
There has been technical innovation in keyboards over the years, mostly having to do with the way they are connected to computers, and most of this growth has been driven by technological neccesity.
- The earliest keyboards were terminal style, connecting to a monitor that in turn connected back to a mainframe. These keyboards had an RJ-11 jack. These are very rarely seen, although I come across them at work.
- The AT connector, which was about two centimeters across and round, was standard on desktop PCs from the mid-80s up until the last AT super socket 7 motherboards became obsolete, in the past few years.
- The PS2 connector, smaller than the AT, and identical with the PS2 connector on mice, was introduced by IBM on (surprisingly) the PS2 model of computer, and became common by the mid-90s and standard around the year 2000.
- Various wireless and infrared keyboards were tried for a while, and are still made. For whatever reason, these never caught on as a major trend, perhaps because they were marketed to appeal to people's sense of niftiness, rather than out of real technological growth.
- USB keyboards are becoming more common, although whether they will replace PS2 remains to be seen. Whether USB in keyboards is being driven by technology, or being driven by fadishness, also remains to be seen.
So, if technological growth of keyboards is slow, technical, and unexciting, what can you do to market your keyboard. Several approaches have been tried, including:
- Keyboards with built in buttons that automatically launched a web browser, e-Mail application, or some other such function. These were popular around the time the internet first became widely popular, and were probably driven by companies desire to present the internet as integrated all the way from the keyboard to the specific site the user was going to. As users became more savvy, this much hand holding was generally seen as unneccesary.
- Ergonomic keyboards also seemed to become popular in the mid to late 90s, under the promise of reducing the strains and pains associated with too much typing. I am not sure of the medical evidence for the healing powers of these keyboards, but consumers never seemed to really catch on to them much.
- Infrared and wireless keyboards have been discussed above. The niftiness and technical utility of these never seemed to sway consumers too much.
- Do you remember the Barbie computer? Or the Hot Wheels one? Those had their own unique keyboards, and there was a number of other fun, brightly colored keyboards, designed mostly for children. These were never mass-marketed, though, and are a footnote to history.
- Black is the new beige. In the past few years, computer companies have introduced black computers, black monitors, and of course, black keyboards. Notice that changing the color of the plastic does not really add a lot of functionality, but it does break twenty years of beige monotony.
So, while keyboards seem to develop slowly technically, there does seem to be a few gimmicks that companies toss in from time to time to make their keyboards seem more exciting. These methods on the whole seem to have met with lukewarm interest from consumers, so it is perhaps best in the future if keyboard makers just keep their keyboards generic and standardized.