Second Class Macs & Road Apples

Apple's Original USB Keyboard


Dan Knight - 2000.02.08

Second Class Macs are Apple's somewhat compromised hardware designs. For the most part, they're not really bad - simply designs that didn't meet their full potential. (On our rating scale, the more brown apples, the worse the hardware.)

The iMac was a positively brilliant departure from conventional computer design, but the USB mouse and keyboard were less than brilliant departures from the norm.

We've already named the Apple USB mouse a Road Apple. This month we turn our attention to their USB keyboard.

Before Apple even shipped the iMac, I noticed that its shrunken keyboard didn't just move keys around and reduce the size of some: iMacit eliminated several keys present on every Apple Extended Keyboard since 1987. As noted in iMac's Keyboard: The Missing Keys, this included F13-15, End, and the Del (forward delete) key.

Among QuicKeys users, F13 has long been the print key. Since it's clearly labeled Print Screen, this was a logical assignment. But now that key's gone.

Likewise, QuicKeys defaults to using the Home key to bring you to the top of a document and the End key to bring you to the end. With the new keyboard, you can still go Home, but you can't reach the End with a keystroke.

But I missed the forward delete key even more. That let you put your cursor in front of the letter you wanted to remove, hit the Del key, and remove one letter at a time.

original iMac USB keyboard
The original iMac USB keyboard.

All these are gone on Apple's USB keyboard, which is why I have a Macally iKey on my G3 at work. It gives me the same 105-key layout I'm used to from a dozen year's use.

Other complaints about Apple's keyboard abound: the F1-12 keys are small (less than half their usual size) and too close to the typing keys. The Esc key is equally small and thus more difficult to hit. Likewise, the arrow keys are under half their usual size, which can be a real nuisance not only when writing or navigating a spreadsheet, but also in games that use the arrow keys.

Then there's the keyboard action itself. I find it acceptable, but a far cry from Apple's old Extended Keyboard, my MicroSpeed ADB keyboard at home, or the Macally iKey I use at work.

This keyboard only has two things going for it: it's small and it comes with the computer at no extra cost.

Like the round mouse, Apple's USB keyboard has provided the impetus for keyboard manufacturers to create good extended keyboards for the iMac and Power Mac. If you're tired of the tiny keyboard, see the Guide to USB Keyboards on MacUSB for a broad selection, some even color coordinated with the iMacs and the graphite G4.

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