A keyboard is the most basic way for users to communicate with computers or other electronic machines. It allows users to give commands via multiple buttons. Alphanumeric keyboards, for instance, have 80 to 100 durable switches, generally one for each key. They also contain special keys like Tab, Alt, Shift keys that perform unique functions.
Keyboards have been the primary input method for computers since the 1970s, supplemented by a handled-pointing device (mouse) since the 1980s. Even with the advent of mobile personal computing devices, such as smartphones and tablets, keyboards remain central to human-computer interaction.
These devices have adapted optional, touchscreen-based means of data entry. In order to simulate the experience of physical switches, virtual keyboards (on touchscreen screens) provide audio and haptic feedback. Modern keyboard designs utilize hybrids of various technologies to achieve better ergonomics and higher cost savings.
Below, we have presented several different types of computer keyboards that have been designed over the past few decades to make human-computer interaction more effective.
Table of Contents
13. Chorded Keyboard
A small chorded keyboard about the size of a numeric keypad
Price range: $15 – $70
Chorded keyboards contain only a few keys that generate a letter or word based on the combination of keys pressed at the same time. It’s quite similar to playing a “chord” on a piano.
A large number of combinations allows you to enter text or commands with one hand. For instance, a keyboard with only 6 keys allows you to enter a total of 63 (26 – 1) different chord combinations.
This type of keyboard became popular as a data entry input device in the mid-1950s. Their popularity reached a peak in the 1970s when IBM launched two- and three-chord keying devices to rival the typewriter.
- Smaller than normal-sized keyboards
- Can be operated with one hand
- Yields fewer errors than QWERTY keyboards
- Slow typing speed
However, in the last four decades, the trend has shifted from task-specific to more general applications. Chorded keyboards have now been completely replaced by more advanced multi-functional keyboards.
12. Full-sized / Desktop Keyboard
Price range: $10 – $70
Full-sized keyboards include alphabetic characters (usually arranged in the QWERTY configuration), numbers, punctuation marks, typographical symbols, currency symbols, function keys, and special characters. They are quite similar to electric-typewriter keyboards but feature some additional keys like Windows key or command keys.
Most of these keyboards are at least 16 inches wide and about 6 inches (or more) deep. The number pad at the right of the letter keys is helpful in ten-key and data entry operations.
- Contains all the extra keys
- Perfect for lots of number entry
- Customize the binds of your keys
- Bulky and takes more space on the desk
- Harder to set in the lap
Extra keys translate to more functionality, especially when referring to brands like Razer, SteelSeries, and Logitech. The premium models allow users to customize the binds of keys or even use macros to perform tasks quickly.
11. Laptop Keyboard
Price range: Integrated with the device
Laptop keyboards take on a flat layout attached to the bottom of the monitor and feature various configurations of alphanumeric characters and symbols. Unlike desktop keyboards, they condense multiple characters into fewer buttons to save space and make for a smaller product.
In most laptops, the number keys (found on the right side of the desktop keyboard) are not included, and multiple combinations of keys are used to type individual symbols or perform certain tasks.
Premium laptops still use keys that offer resistance while pressing them. This is because more key resistance provides better tactile feedback, which improves typing accuracy.
- Great overall comfort compared to desktop keyboards
- Compact and portable
- Comes with an integrated touchpad
- Expensive to replace
- Relatively low tactile feedback to the finger
Furthermore, laptop keyboard accessories, such as a wireless mouse with a USB cable and mousepad, are readily available in the market. Since they can be perfectly synced with the laptops, they are perfect for users who are more comfortable with mouse scrolling.
10. Flexible Keyboard
Price range: $15 – $35
Flexible keyboards, also known as roll-up keyboards, are designed to bend and flex without breaking. They have a full arrangement of keys; however, the ‘key travel’ and the distance between the keys are shorter than that of conventional mechanical keyboards.
Commercially available flexible keyboards are made of silicone rubber because it offers the perfect balance of flexibility and strength. The material is soft enough to bend without breaking, yet it is still hard enough to withstand impact.
The other big advantage of silicone is it offers excellent protection against dust and spills. This is why these keyboards are used in hospitals where they are subjected to frequent washing and other dirty areas such as automotive garages or manufacturing facilities.
- Folded into a compact design
- Easy to carry
- Waterproof and dustproof
- Can only be used on a hard surface
- Doesn’t offer a great typing experience
They can replace keyboards that must be protected with plastic coverings. They are more comfortable to use than one with a plastic cover. And whey dirty, users can easily wipe them off with a damp cloth.
9. Ergonomic Keyboard
Price range: $20 – $150
Ergonomic keyboards can be laid out flat on top of a table surface or held like a game controller for long hours of usage. It is designed to reduce muscle strain, fatigue, and other problems.
Most ergonomic keyboards are made in a V-shape, which allows the hands to rest at a more natural angle. Some studies show that these keyboards may minimize the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome or other sorts of repetitive strain injury.
Ergonomic keyboards can be further divided into different groups:
- Contoured keyboard: It places the keys into two depressions set at shoulder width, with function keys placed at the middle for use with the thumbs. Such configurations require very little movement of wrists and arms.
- Handheld keyboard: Users can hold it like a game controller and lean back on a chair while typing. Some of these keyboards contain a trackball mouse (which allows mouse movement) along with the keys.
- Angle split keyboard: It groups keys into two or more segments. Typically, the middle part is tented up in such a way that the little fingers are lower than the index fingers while typing.
- Suitable for heavy workloads or long working hours
- Optimized for comfort and ease of use
- Significantly reduces muscle strain and fatigue
- Takes time to get accustomed
Some companies make laptops with ergonomics in mind. ThinkPad E Series, for example, features concave and well-spaced keys, which makes it an ideal machine for both gamers and professionals.
8. Thumb Keyboard
Price range: Integrated into the device
As the name suggests, thumb keyboards are designed to operate with thumbs only while holding the device. They are found in mobile phones and PDAs. They have a similar layout to conventional keyboards like QWERTY.
Thumb keyboards can also be numeric, containing only numbers, decimal points, mathematical symbols for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and a few function keys. These numeric pads facilitate data entry.
- Easy to operate
- Can provide haptic feedback
- Slow typing speed
A few independent thumb keyboards have also been developed in the past few decades. The itablet Bluetooth Keyboard, for example, is the world’s first thumb keyboard with a rear-facing touchpad. It is compatible with iPhones, iPads, PS3, and desktops.
7. Virtual Keyboard
Price range: None (keyboard application is integrated into the device)
A virtual keyboard is a software program used to emulate a standard keyboard. The keys are displayed on the screen of the device, and the user points and clicks on the pictures of keys to enter text.
These keyboards often include multiple pages of characters, including letters, numbers, symbols, and punctuation. Depending on the device’s operating system, the keyboard may have options to insert stickers, emojis, and animated GIFs. Most virtual keyboards have started incorporating “intelligent word prediction” to increase typing speed.
Since they can provide full keyboard capability, they are used in tablet computers, smartphones, and personal digital assistance (PDA). Although every commercial device comes with a built-in virtual keyboard, many people like to use third-party applications, which offer more customizations and personal preferences.
- Extremely customizable
- Gestures such as hold and swipe allow more efficient typing
- More difficult for malware to spy on the text entered by users
- Users may need to look straight down at the device
- No physical sensation of pressing key results in misfires
Microsoft SwiftKey, for example, learns and adapts to match your unique way of typing — including nicknames, emoji, and slang.
6. Projection Keyboard
Price range: $45 – $110
Although users interact with the virtual keyboard mostly via a touchscreen interface, there are some other options available in the form of virtual or augmented reality. A projection keyboard, for example, is a device that projects a virtual keyboard onto a solid surface.
The device contains a projector (that emits a virtual image of a keyboard) and a sensor (that picks up finger movements). It is embedded with a software program that instantly converts the coordinates to detect characters.
More specifically, the virtual keyboard is made of an infrared laser module, keyboard pattern projector, a single image sensor, and an embedded program. While a keyboard pattern is implemented through the projector, the CMOS image sensor collects sequential frames of fingertips keystroke.
- Can be used on any flat surface
- Not susceptible to spills and dust
- Reduces the risks of information theft
- Doesn’t give any tactile feedback while typing
- Typing speed can be lower
The integrated software tool utilizes advanced image processing techniques to precisely detect every keystroke. Studies show that such devices can work reliably with high-speed response and high accuracy.
5. Hall-Effect Keyboard
Price range: $150 – $200
Hall effect is a phenomenon that represents a measurement of displaced electrons in an electric current caused by an electromagnetic force.
Unlike mechanical keyboard switches that require two physical contact points for operations, Hall effect switches utilize magnetism (along with a conical spring for physical resistance) to detect a key press. This drastically reduces key debounce and chatter, making the ‘data feeding’ experience incredibly smooth.
Since these keyboards do not rely on physical contact for actuation, they are very reliable and every switch can endure billions of clicks. Plus, they can resist large amounts of contaminants and can be made fully waterproof.
But since this type of keyboard (as a whole component) is mostly made for custom applications, and each key requires an individual magnet and sensor, they are expensive to manufacture.
- Can be made completely waterproof
- Extremely reliable
- Precisely measures the depth of the actuation
- Expensive to manufacture
- Cannot be used in areas with high external magnetic fields
Hall effect keyboards are primarily used in fields that require ultra-high reliability, such as aircraft cockpits and nuclear power plants.
4. Membrane Keyboard
Internals of a membrane keyboard
Price range: $20 – $90
The keys in a membrane keyboard are not separate moving components. Instead, they are pressure pads with only symbols and outlines printed on a flat, flexible surface.
In general, membrane keyboards contain three layers made of very flexible materials. The top one is a membrane layer followed by an inert middle layer and a third membrane layer at the bottom. All these layers are separated by a conductive trace, which triggers the action or letter onscreen during a keypress.
Membrane keyboards were popular in the early 1980s. Since they were cost-efficient to mass-produce and more resistant against liquid and dirt than most other keyboards, they were widely used in home computers and consumer electronic devices, including video game consoles and PDAs.
- Quiet, even during high-speed typing
- Lightweight and compact
- Not as long-lasting as mechanical keyboards
- Harder to replace a part
Specialized membrane keyboards have been used in microwave ovens, remote control keypads, handheld calculators, and other similar devices where fast typing speed is not necessary.
3. Optical Keyboard
Price range: $40 – $200
Unlike mechanical keyboards that use infrared light and photoelectric switches to detect actuated keys, optical keyboards utilize LEDs and photosensors to detect pressed keys. Usually, the emitter and sensors are placed in the perimeter, mounted on a small PCB.
The emitter directs the lights from one direction to another below the surface of the keys. When you press a key, the light below the respective key becomes obstructed. The keyboard detects this blockage of light as a keystroke.
While most optical keyboards use at least two beams (horizontal beam and vertical beam) to detect the actuated key, some use a specialized key structure that blocks the light in a specific pattern, allowing just a single beam per row of keys (horizontal beam).
- Have a fast reaction time than metal switches
- Longer lifespan
- Keys can be removed individually for cleaning or replacement
- Limited variety of switches
These keyboards are not prone to significant performance degradation due to the oxidation and wear of the metal contact points inside. They are twice as durable as mechanical keyboards — they can last up to 100,000 million keystrokes. Plus, they can offer exceptional debounce time (about 0.03 milliseconds) compared to 20 milliseconds in conventional switches.
2. Multifunctional Keyboard
Price range: $20 – $80
This type of keyboard provides additional features beyond the conventional keyboard. It is mostly used in professional, multi-screen work environments.
Some multifunctional keyboards are programmable, which means their functions can be customized based on the user’s workflow. For example, if you are a developer, you can configure the additional keys to quickly compile or debug the code.
Some include a smart card reader, trackballs, customized keypads, and soft keys for macros/pre-sets. Recent models feature a touchscreen display to execute app inputs, control audiovisual media, stream video, and configure individual desktop environments.
- Provides additional function keys
- Highly customizable
- Designed for professionals
They are common in high-performance workplaces and control room operators (financial institutions, professional trading setups, air traffic management, emergency services, security, etc.).
1. Wireless Keyboard
Price range: $25 – $200
A wireless keyboard communicates with desktops or laptops with the help of radio-frequency, such as Bluetooth or WiFi, or with infrared technology. It eliminates the need for one more tangled cord behind the computer desk. Plus, it is common for most consumers to buy a wireless mouse to complement a wireless keyboard.
Bluetooth wireless keyboards are the most common ones. They use Bluetooth protocol to connect and communicate with the paired machine. Although their range is limited (up to 30 feet), the latest Bluetooth technology allows for faster and secure data transmission.
Some keyboard uses a transmitter and a transceiver to send and receive data from the paired device. The transmitter is integrated with the keyboard while the transceiver is connected to the USB port of the device.
Once the device recognizes the keyboard, it allows you to send commands or type as if both modules (computer and keyboard) were wired conveniently. The frequency of these keyboards could range between 27 MHz and 2.4 GHz. Recent models offer reliable encryption, extended battery life, and interference-free performance.
- Extremely reliable
- Reduces the wire clutter behind the computer desk
- Must be powered by either rechargeable or non-rechargeable batteries
- Poor connection or interference may result in slow response
Infrared keyboards use light waves to communicate with computers. Although infrared technology is well-developed and commonly used in wireless devices, such as remote controls, it is rarely implemented in computer keyboards. Most infrared keyboards sync within a range of 35 feet as long as there is a direct line of sight.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Bloomberg keyboard?
The Bloomberg keyboard is a standard PC keyboard designed for use with the Bloomberg Professional service. It uses standard USB drivers and features a Bloomberg Secure Access Technology (BSAT) device for secure log-in to the Bloomberg Professional service.
The Bloomberg Terminal is a computer software system that connects over 325,000 financial professionals across the world with real-time data, analytics, and news.
How many keyboard layouts are there?
There are more than 25 Latin-script keyboard layouts designed to reduce finger movement and provide higher typing speed along with ergonomic advantages. The most popular layouts are QWERTY, AZERTY, Dvorak, Colemak, and Workman.
Why is the keyboard QWERTY instead of ABC?
The reason dates back to the 1870s when Christopher Latham Sholes, a newspaper editor and printer, filed a patent for his early writing machine. The first model made by Sholes used a piano-like keyboard that contained characters arranged in alphabetical order.
In order to make this machine perfect, he started altering the arrangement of letters. In 1873, he sold the manufacturing rights to E. Remington and Sons. Remington then made numerous adjustments and came up with a QWERTY layout. In 1878, they introduced the first typewriter that featured both upper and lower case letters (using a shift key).
The QWERTY layout became an instant hit, and upcoming typewriters adapted the same layout. Since then, many companies have tried to introduce a culture shift with keyboards that make more sense. For example, the Dvorak layout is developed to increase typing speed.
But since everyone has somehow learned to use QWERTY layout and most people don’t want to relearn typing, the QWERTY keyboards have become the convention. To get used to some other layout would almost be like learning another language.