Enter Edgar Matias, who started out making the half keyboard, which is like a chorded keyboard except that you can use your QWERTY typing skills with little modification -- assuming you or your boss has $595 (!) to lay out on a keyboard. But after that Edgar started making QWERTY and Dvorak keyboards for semi-competitive prices. FYI: No Slashdot person got a free keyboard (or extra money) for making this video, but I have a Matias keyboard, and in my opinion it's far better than the cheapie it replaced. A lot of other people seem to want "real" keyboards, too, which they buy from Matias or from other companies such as Unicomp, which makes keyboards just like the classic, heavily-loved IBM Model M. Again, I've owned a Unicomp keyboard (that I bought; it was not a giveaway) and it was excellent. Both companies put out quality products that are far easier on your hands and wrists than the $10 or $20 keyboards sold by big box electronics retailers.
Slashdot: Edgar, you’re in – what I might think of as a noble campaign, you’re making mechanical keyboards, mechanical switch keyboards.
Edgar Matias: That’s correct. Yes.
Slashdot: And there aren’t a lot of those around anymore?
Edgar: That’s true.
Slashdot: Can you talk about why that is?
Edgar: Basically, the keyboard market moved away from mechanical keyboards to reduce the cost. And originally ALPS keyboards were very, very popular and the rubber dome keyboards that you get these days were actually done to recreate the feel of the ALPS keyboard. That’s why they’re generally tactile, the best rubber dome keyboards and scissor switch keyboards are designed to be – to feel tactile whereas most of the gaming keyboards are very linear, they use cherry switches, so you can’t feel the actuation point, the trigger point where the key gets activated when you press it. That’s good for gaming, but it’s not that great for typing.
When you’re gaming you’re basically pressing the same couple of set of keys repeatedly, very quickly, with typing, you want to feel each key, you want to know exactly as forward trigger, so you can apply just enough force to trigger it and then move on to the next key. And that’s they try to simulate that with rubber dome keyboards, and with scissor switch keyboards that we use on laptops, but you have to go all the way to the bottom, press all the way to the bottom before it actually registers the key. With mechanical key switches, it registers part way down and without switches, we can feel the exact spot where it registers. So, that’s why we’ve been making ALPS keyboards since 2003, we’ve probably been doing it longer than probably anybody else in the market right now for mechanical keyboards.
Slashdot: So what happened to those ALPS switches?
Edgar: We used to buy from ALPS. But back in early 2000s, they decided to stop making them, and they’d been threatening to do that for a while, and so I figured eventually they’re going to stop making them, we need a backup plan. So, we did our own tooling for the ALPS switch. We recreated the original ALPS switch. We made some improvements to it. We used higher quality materials. We used transparent housings which allowed for back lighting, which we needed for having an LED on the caps lock. And at the same time, we decided to do a quiet version, because the only complaint we ever got on our keyboards is that they’re too noisy. I don’t mind that and lots of people who work by themselves in a room don’t mind that, but if you work in an office or you talk on the phone a lot, the noise really gets in the way.
Slashdot: So you’re trying to get the best of both worlds; the real feel but not be too loud at the same time.
Edgar: Exactly, exactly.
Slashdot: Can you show us the actual keys, the modules?
Edgar: Absolutely, for sure, so that’s the original switch, so that’s our recreation of the original ALPS switch, and it’s very clicky, you can actually – I don’t know if you can hear the click. And so that’s the switch that was originally in our – or still is in our Tactile Pro, that’s our recreation of the original ALPS switch. We’ve since done the second switch which is the same looks, you can see it looks the same, but the difference is we’ve put a rubber bumper in there. You probably can’t see it. So, I’m going to grab another component that will let you see it. So that’s the stem, and you can see it’s got a little white kind of shape of a barbell, but when you press down instead of plastic hitting plastic, hard rubber hits the plastic and that dampens the sound, and you’ll notice this is on the top and the bottom, so it dampens the sound going down and coming up, so it’s very, very quiet. It’s basically you can’t tell, other people can’t tell that you are using a mechanical keyboard it is that quiet. So that’s one thing we did, we also clamped down on some of the internal parts to keep the vibration down, so it’s very, very quiet.
Slashdot: You’ve been making keyboards for more than a decade now?
Edgar: Absolutely, I am.
Slashdot: But here at the show you’ve actually brought a mechanical keyboard that is unusual and that it is a split design.
Slashdot: Can you talk about that a little bit?
Edgar: Yeah, we launched a – we’re launching an ergonomic keyboard, that’s mechanical, it’s called Ergo Pro. It’s been in development for over two years, and this is actually I think the third or fourth version. We weren’t happy with the original design, so we iterated a couple of times before we settled on this design.
The nice thing about it is the two parts are completely separate. So you can set them apart at whatever distance is most comfortable for you and at whatever angle. The gel, the palm supports are gel, so really really thick gel, you can see really nice – so you can – all the bony parts of your hand have a nice soft part to rest on and we also made a number of other improvements that you don’t see on other organic keyboards. We got for example, we’ve got the six key on the correct side, most of them put them on the left. If you learned how to type in school, you were taught to use your right hand for the six key, so we got that right. Another interesting thing that we did is, we actually have the navigation keys in the same pattern you get on a full size keyboard, page up or page down, home and end, follows the standard layout and they are right next to arrow keys. So that allows you to have a keyboard that’s not wide but still narrow, but still have the standard layout for the nav keys that you’re used to from years and years of using a full size keyboard, and it makes the Ergo Pro narrower so you don’t have to reach as far as the mouse which is also a problem with bigger key boards.
Slashdot: Is this keyboard using those quiet keys?
Edgar: Absolutely yeah. It’s the quiet click switches. We figured, most people are going to use this are going to use it probably in an office environment and it’s our most popular switch, in fact we have people who normally use cherry switches buying our keyboards so they can use it at work, because their, you know, the cherry switch keyboards are too noisy.
Slashdot: Did you still sell some noisy models, for somebody who really craves that sound?
Edgar: Yeah, for sure. We still sell Tactile Pro and we also have our new model called the Mini Tactile Pro which uses a clicky switches, it’s very popular. And I personally use one. So you know, we’re going to keep making it.
Slashdot: Will there be renaissance to mechanical keyboards?
Edgar: No I think the renaissance has pretty much happened. The mechanical key boards have pretty much taken over the market for gaming keyboards. I would say the majority are probably mechanical by now and the cherry switch is super super popular. I think the gaming market is ahead of the general keyboard market. Most people who type still use the cheaper style switches but we sell a lot to creative professionals, writers, lawyers, doctors, judges. Roger Ebert was one of our customers. He used the Tactile Pro for many years before he passed way and there are some musicians who use it. So, yeah, we’re happy to still be making it.
Slashdot: I can go to Walmart and buy a keyboard for about $10 right now with a membrane board. What is the cost to get today’s mechanical board?
Edgar: So, it depends on which model you buy, the smaller models in USB are 129, the standard size model with the number pad is 149, the Ergo Pro is 199, and we also make the smaller models wireless as well. There is a Bluetooth 1 for the Mac, that’s 169. And we do really interesting one called the Secure Pro that has 128 bit AES encryption. So it’s minimal acceptable level of security for selling to government or into the financial industry. As far as we know, it’s the only mechanical keyboard that has 128 bit AES encryption.