Chiclet keyboard

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A chiclet keyboard or island-style keyboard is a computer keyboard with keys that form an array of small, flat rectangular or lozenge-shaped rubber or plastic keys that look like erasers or "Chiclets", a brand of chewing gum manufactured in the shape of small squares with rounded corners. It is an evolution of the membrane keyboard, using the same principle of a single rubber sheet with individual electrical switches underneath each key, but with the addition of an additional upper layer which provides superior tactile feedback through a buckling mechanism.

Since the mid-1980s, chiclet keyboards have been mainly restricted to lower-end electronics, such as small handheld calculators, cheap PDAs and many remote controls, though the name is also used to refer to scissor keyboards with superficially similar appearance.

History[edit]

The term first appeared during the home computer era of the late 1970s to mid-1980s. The TRS-80 Color Computer,[1] TRS-80 MC-10,[2] and Timex Sinclair 2068[3] were all described as having "chiclet keys".

This style of keyboard was met with poor reception. John Dvorak wrote that it was "associated with $99 el cheapo computers".[4] The keys on Sinclair ZX Spectrum computers were "rubber dome keys" which were sometimes described as "dead flesh",[5] while the feel of the IBM PCjr's chiclet keyboard was reportedly compared to "massaging fruit cake".[6] Its quality was such that an amazed Tandy executive, whose company had previously released a computer with a similarly unpopular keyboard, asked "How could IBM have made that mistake with the PCjr?"[7]

Design[edit]

Stylised cross-section of a "rubber" Chiclet keyboard. Under the left key is air space (light grey), just below the upper red conductive layer. The thickness of the bottom three layers is exaggerated for clarity; in real-life they are not much thicker than paper. Note the distortion of the thin rubber where the right-hand key (pressed) joins the sheet. Some designs omit the top membrane (green) and hole (black) layers, instead coating the undersides of the keys themselves with conductive material (red).

Chiclet keyboards operated under essentially the same mechanism as in the membrane keyboard. In both cases, a keypress is registered when the top layer is forced through a hole to touch the bottom layer. For every key, the conductive traces on the bottom layer are normally separated by a non-conductive gap. Electrical current cannot flow between them; the switch is open. However, when pushed down, conductive material on the underside of the top layer bridges the gap between those traces; the switch is closed, current can flow, and a keypress is registered. All such keyboards are characterized by having each key surrounded (and held in place) by a perforated plate, so there is a space between the keys.

Unlike the membrane keyboard, where the user presses directly onto the top membrane layer, this form of chiclet keyboard places a set of moulded rubber keys above this. With some key designs, the user pushes the key, and under sufficient pressure the thin sides of the rubber key suddenly collapse. In other designs — such as that seen in the diagram — the deliberate weak point is where the key joins the rest of the sheet. The effect is similar in both cases. This collapse allows the solid rubber center to move downwards, forcing the top membrane layer against the bottom layer, and completing the circuit. The "sudden collapse" of the chiclet keyboard (along with the movement of the key) provides a greater tactile feedback to the user than a simple flat membrane keyboard.

Most often the tops of the keys were hard, but sometimes they were made of the same material as the rubber dome itself.

Other versions of the chiclet keyboard omit the upper membrane and hole/spacer layers; instead the underside of the rubber keys themselves have a conductive coating. When the key is pushed, the conductive underside makes contact with the traces on the bottom layer, and bridges the gap between them, thus completing the circuit. Grooves between hollow domes on the blue underside permit air to flow out of a dome when a key is pressed, and let air come back in when released.

The dome switch keyboards used with a large proportion of modern PCs are technically similar to chiclet keyboards. The rubber keys are replaced with rubber domes, and hard plastic keytops rest on top of these. Because the keytops are wider than the rubber domes the keytops are not separated but align almost perfectly with only a minimal gap in between each other.

Legacy[edit]

The term "chiclet" has also been used to describe low-profile, low-travel scissor keyboards with simplified, flat keycaps separated by a bezel. Sony was the first modern laptop manufacturer to make use of this keyboard style with the release of the VAIO X505 in 2004.[8]

Notable uses[edit]

All of the computers listed hail from the early home computer era, except the OLPC XO-1.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Coco Chronicles". www.cs.unc.edu.
  2. ^ The TRS-80 MC-10: too little, too late for too much? (evaluation). Owen W. Linzmayer, Creative Computing Vol. 9, No. 10. October 1983. 39
  3. ^ "The Timex-Sinclair 2068. (evaluation)". Owen W. Linzmayer, Creative Computing Vol. 10, No. 3. March 1984. p. 93. (atarimagazines.com).
  4. ^ Dvorak, John C. (1983-11-28). "Inside Track". InfoWorld. p. 188. Retrieved 23 March 2016.
  5. ^ "Sinclair ZX Spectrum". ComputerMuseum.50megs.com.
  6. ^ Sandler, Corey (1984-02-21). "A Secret Inside The ROM". PC Magazine. p. 323. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  7. ^ "FROM HOME TO BUSINESS: THE ECLECTIC RADIO SHACK COMPUTER LINE". InfoWorld. 1984-08-20. pp. 47–52. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
  8. ^ "What the Vaio Z says about Sony's little design problem". November 15, 2011.
  9. ^ "Chicklet Keyboard frm IBM PC Jr". DigiBarn Computer Museum.
  10. ^ "Philips VG 8000 / 8010". oldcomputers.com History of Home and Game Computers. Erik Klooster.

This article is based on material taken from the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing prior to 1 November 2008 and incorporated under the "relicensing" terms of the GFDL, version 1.3 or later.