The History Of The Keyboard - Macbound Guide

We all currently use a keyboard, whether on a mechanical typewriter when we learn to type, on an electric typewriter, on a computer, or even on mobile devices with the touch screen keyboard. But surely many do not know its history and do not know where this invention that changed the way of entering information came from.

The typewriter: heritage

The typewriter inheritance
The typewriter inheritance

The history of the modern computer keyboard begins with the typewriter itself, which was invented in 1868 by Christopher Latham Sholes. In that year, the first patent for a practical and functional machine was produced, although there had been other similar attempts before.

Shortly thereafter, in 1877, the Remington company began mass-producing this typewriter for sale. And little by little it would developed and improve until it became the typewriter that we all know today. That was where what should be a keyboard began to take shape.

The QWERTY keyboard

There are even legends about the invention of the QWERTY keyboard, that is, the key distribution that we all know today (although there are other distributions). Some think it was patented by Sholes and his associate James Densmore in 1878.

The reason that prompted shoes to make this distribution was to create a key map that surpassed its competitors and the physical limitations that existed at the time when it was written. As you know, at this time a system was used in which a key spring pushed a hammer which in turn hit an ink ribbon and thus marked the character on the paper.

As typing machines improved, other forms of keyboards became available, such as the Dvorak keyboard patented in 1936. This keyboard is still present today, although only a minority use it. However, QWERTY is still the most popular layout around the world, both in English-speaking countries and beyond. And that is because it is efficient enough and allows you to write with ease and agility.

First Advances

IBM Keyboard
IBM Keyboard

One of the earliest advances in keyboard technology was the invention of the teletype or teleprinter. It was discovered in the 19th century, and improved upon by Royal Earl House inventors David Edward Hughes, Emile Baudot, Donald Murray, Charles L. Krum, Edward Kleinschmidt, and Frederick G. Creed. But it was through the efforts of Charles Krum, between 1907 and 1910, that the teletype system became practical for everyday users.

In the 1930s they introduced new keyboard models that combined the technology of primitive typewriters with telegraph communication. In addition, punched card systems were combined to lay the first foundations for commercial calculators.

IBM had registered more than 1 million dollars in sales of these machines in 1931. Some machines used punches to pierce the cards and were used in the first computers to load data or programs. This technology was even used in the famous ENIAC computer of 1946, which used a punched card reader as the information input and output system.

In 1948 a new computer called BINAC used a typewriter controlled by electromechanics to input data directly onto magnetic tape to feed the data into the computer and print the results.

After that, electric typewriters would take a new step forward to become the bridge between the technology of the past and modern computers.

Video display terminals

In 1964, MIT, Bell Laboratories, and General Electric collaborated to create a multi-user, time-sharing computer system called MULTICSwhich would be the predecessor of the famous UNIX and which led to the development of operating systems such as Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, and many others that we know today.

The system encouraged the development of a new user interface called video display terminal (VDT), which incorporated cathode ray tube technology using televisions as monitors and an electric typewriter to enter information, that is, something more similar to what we know today as a computer.

This allowed computer users to see for the first time the text characters they were typing on their screens, which made it easy to create, edit, and delete text characters. It also made programming and the use of computers in general easier.

Electronic impulses and manual devices

Early computer keyboards relied on teletypes or push buttons, but there was a problem: having to take so many electromechanical steps to transmit data between the keyboard and the computer slowed things down a lot. With VDT technology and electric keyboards, the keys could now send electronic impulses directly to the computer and save time. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, all computers used electronic keyboards and VDTs.

In the 1990s, mobile phone devices began to appear and become widely available to consumers. This was also a breakthrough in keyboards. One of the first such devices was the HP95LX, released in 1991 by Hewlett-Packard. The terminal was in a flip-clamp format small enough to fit in the hand. Although not yet classified as such, the HP95LX was the first of the personal data assistants (PDAs). It had a small QWERTY keyboard for text input, although touch typing was practically impossible due to its small size.

Keyboards were no longer just a monopoly of typewriters and computers, they also became part of other devices, such as cell phones, PDAs, etc.

Is the keyboard from the past?

When the first PDAs came out and began to develop capabilities like a computer, being able to process texts, check mail, play games, surf the net, etc., then another element was introduced: the pencil. This pen could interact with the touch screen to handle apps. However, as it turned out, the pen was not as fast as the keyboard.

The project apple newton from 1993 was expensive and its recognition of handwriting was especially difficult and poor. Goldberg and Richardson, two Xerox researchers in Palo Alto, invented a simplified system of pen strokes called “Unistrokes,” a kind of shorthand that converted each letter of the English alphabet into simple strokes that users entered into their devices. Following this, Palm Pilot, released in 1996, was an instant success, introducing the Graffiti technique, which was closer to the Roman alphabet and included a way to enter upper and lower case characters. Other keyboardless inputs of the time were MDTIM, published by Poika Isokoski, and Jot, introduced by Microsoft.

It looked like the keyboard was going to be a thing of the past with the arrival of these new interfaces, but the truth is that it was not like that…

The keyboards continue

The Andriod keyboard
The Andriod keyboard

The problem with all these keyboard alternative technologies is that they are not as agile and capturing data requires more memory and resources than the keyboard. For this reason, the keyboard is still an input peripheral that is not lacking in the new equipment. It even began testing different keyboard layouts and patterns for new smartphones and tablets.

This is how the new software keyboards that you now use on the touch screens of mobile devices. They are based on a matrix printed on the screen and that you can press. Depending on where you pressed, it will represent one key or another, without the need for a physical keyboard. Text input is done by pressing the keys with a stylus or finger. Also, the software keyboard disappears when not in use.

The designs of QWERTY keyboards are currently for both hardware keyboards and software keyboards. However, there are other distributions like FITALY, Cuban and OPTI, etc.

Voice

Despite the introduction of virtual assistants and voice recognition to send commands through voice or dictation, the truth is that it has not yet replaced the classic keyboards. They are part of today’s computers and will be part of them for many years to come.

Now the future successor to conventional keyboards could be in the brain-computer interfaces or BMI. But until then, typing what we want to write will remain an everyday thing.

Read more about The History Of The Mouse

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Abram left his e-business studies to devote himself to his entrepreneurial projects. In 2017, he created the company Inbound Media and wrote articles about high-tech products for his Chromebookeur site. In 2019, Chromebookeur was renamed Macbound and became a general purchasing advice site. Today, Abram manages the development and growth of Macbound, surrounded by a young and talented team.

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