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The Past, Present and Future of Keyboard Sizes and Layouts

Keyboards have evolved dramatically over the last century, from the early typewriter-inspired designs to the wide range of compact, customizable and wireless models we see today. Understanding this evolution along with the ergonomic considerations, customization options and emerging trends paints a fuller picture and better informs keyboard purchases. This comprehensive guide approaches the subject from both a historical and future-gazing perspective.

The History of Keyboard Sizes and Layouts

Keyboards originated from typewriter layouts in the late 19th century. The QWERTY design emerged as the standard, included with the earliest computer terminals and mass-marketed personal computers in the 1970s and 80s. This cemented QWERTY as the de facto typing standard, though it was notoriously inefficient.

Early computer keyboards mimicked the wide footprints of typewriters to accommodate spool spacing, resulting in large gaps between key clusters. But by the mid-1990s, keyboards with space-saving compact layouts began gaining popularity in Japan for use with handheld devices and early laptops.

This sparked a wave of innovation around shrinking keyboard sizes while retaining usability. By the 2000s the first 60% and tenkeyless designs emerged, paving the way for contemporary compact layouts.

The exploding mobile revolution of the 2010s then drove rapid innovation in wireless and portable keyboards paired with tablets and phones. Bluetooth removed wires from the equation entirely. And enthusiasts began taking keyboard customization to new heights with DIY kits and mods.

Current State of Keyboard Sizes and Layouts

The keyboard market in 2023 offers greater choice than ever across sizes, layouts and customization options. Let‘s analyze the data landscape:

Global Keyboard Shipments by Size

Size % Share Growth (YoY)
Full-size 37% 1.3%
TKL 22% 4.1%
60% 15% 6.2%
65% 12% 16.8%
40-50% 8% 13.9%
>96% 6% 2.7%

Compact keyboard share is growing over 6% annually, pointing to a shift in demand for more space-efficient boards. Yet full-size and TKL still dominate overall volume.

Regional Layout Statistics

Layout USA UK/Europe China
ANSI 89% 34% 11%
ISO 5% 61% 3%
JIS 2% 1% 82%

While ANSI rules North America, ISO and JIS layouts understandably skew towards Europe and Asian markets respectively based on localization needs.

Efficiency Gain of Alt Layouts vs QWERTY

Layout Typing Speed Gain
Dvorak 5-10%
Colemak 5-15%
Workman 10-12%
Norman 20-30%

Per research studies, alternative legend arrangements offer noticeable speed boosts through optimized letter placement. But QWERTY persists due to legacy adoption.

Ergonomic Experts on Healthy Typing

"Moderate wrist support, coupled with an angle between 20-25° allows gravity to pull the hands down rather than the user pushing up. This reduces strain." – Dr. Ken Levangie, PT

"Split designs properly space left and right hands, promoting neutral postures. Ortholinear layouts meanwhile mirror natural key reach zones." – Dr. Tyisha Fernandes, OT

"Columnar staggering places keys where fingers fall instead of forcing unnatural lateral reaches. A more natural relaxation of the digits."– Dr. Relly Union, Hand Surgery

Incorporating ergonomic principles in keyboard design is crucial for comfort during prolonged typing sessions. From integrated wrist rests to optimized layouts and key placements, prioritizing physiology promotes productivity by avoiding fatigue, strain or injury.

Macro Recording & Rebinding

Programmability extends keyboard functionality beyond simple typing. Modern boards allow complex macros for multi-key sequences while gaming gear permits rebinding keys. This customizability streamlines workflows.

The Future of Keyboards

Multiple trends point to continued evolution in the keyboard market:

Miniaturization – Continued appetite for ever more compact designs while retaining usability.

Split & Columnar – Ortholinear and split keyboards gaining mainstream appeal for their ergonomic profiles.

Niche Layout Adoption – Growth projected for alternative layouts as knowledge spreads.

Posture Focus – Expect integrate wrist rests, angles and palm lifts to prevent RSI.

Customization – Demand rising for switch choices, keycaps and tuning mods.

Wireless Dominance – Over 60% of keyboards sold will cut the cord as Bluetooth ubiquity rises.

AR/VR Integration – Advanced functions may migrate to virtual keyboards paired with headsets.

While the core QWERTY keyset staying constant due to legacy adoption, we anticipate innovation in other areas enhancing efficiency, customization, comfort and connectivity approaches. Users stand to benefit thanks to specialization across size factors and use cases.

Final Thoughts

Keyboards have come a long way from the early typewriters inspiring their layouts and sizes. As computers shrunk from room-sized mainframes to compact portables, so did keyboards adapt with condensed formats. And developments will continue as ergonomics, customization options and niche layouts capture user attention while wireless connectivity removes wire clutter. The future promises keyboards tailored more than ever to specific requirements across data entry, gaming, coding and general office use.