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Extended Ⅱ

1167 words

I never got the hang of podcasts. From time to time I hear about good ones, I subscribe to them and iTunes will duly download them. And then they'll sit around in iTunes until I delete them months later. That's probably because podcasts are a bit of a failed medium for people like me. Whenever I can devote my full attention to something I'd much rather read, eat, watch films or write pointless blog posts and Mac applications than listening to a podcast. There are situations when I could devote part of my attention to a podcast by listening to it on the side, but usually that doesn't work either. Because listening to a podcast before sleeping means that either I fall asleep right away if it's dull or won't be able to sleep in the rare cases where it's interesting. I.e. failure in both cases. Besides - most podcasts are simply crap. Trying to put the nuisance that is commercial radio into a new medium.

People pointed me to the talk show by John Gruber and Dan Benjamin when it started. And I considered it rather refreshing simply because they started talking right away without any crap jingles up front. Yeah, I can't tell the two of them apart by their voices, but that doesn't matter too much as it's mainly self-congratulatory Mac geekery anyway. I think I even spotted some ads - err, 'sponsors' - put in there for which it wasn't entirely clear whether they were heartfelt recommendations by the hosts or paid-for features. What was more of a problem was that everything seemed to revolve around the iPhone and giving us the same circlejerk in audio that the 'blogosphere' or 'twitterverse' gives us in writing. Yawn, I quickyl stopped paying attention.

But this week many people were linking to the current episode of the podcast which I simply couldn't resists. Of course completely Mac centric and pointless as well, but so over-indulgent and pointless that it seems like genius: A full hour of awe in honour of the Apple Extended and Apple Extended Ⅱ keyboards.

I am picky about keyboards myself but not overly picky. Back on the Atari ST the keyboard was built-in, so there was no question about what to use. When I got my first Mac, the Apple Keyboard Ⅱ was included. I still love that keyboard's design because it's so nice and small. Its feel was a bit too soft, it didn't put up with such nuisances as function or Num lock keys and you could plug a mouse into it. In some ways it still beats many keyboards there are today. In other ways - since the introduction of Exposé - OS X depends on having function keys these days.

Then I moved to my Powerbook and did without an external keyboard for a while. And then I wanted an external keyboard and simply got a used first generation iMac one. Again, I liked its small footprint. It was OK to type on but after a few years it seemed to wear off, so I replaced it by another used 'Apple Pro Keyboard' after a while which not only had all the dirt disgustingly visible when turned upside down but didn't have a good feel to it either. It wore off even more quickly. Which was when I did what I should have done long before and I got myself an iMate to attach old ADB keyboards to my current computer via ADB.

Unlike what other people say - those Americans can't judge the topic of keyboards because they only get the crappy American ones which lack a key by default - the iMate isn't perfect. It doesn't handle that extra key very well in current OS X versions and it certainly doesn't do that in the 'no drivers' stable way that we all want and love. Instead it will simply ignore the ^ and ° key at the very top left of a German keyboard. You can work around that by using other key combinations but that's certainly neither conveninent nor perfect; Particularly if you want to type exponents in TeX.

And after getting the iMate I eventually picked up my dad's good old Apple Extended Ⅱ keyboard. And it's just wonderful. The feel is good and light, the sound is reassuringly clicketiclick and it always feels like I'm typing more quickly when using it. I'll leave whether that's just my perception or an objective fact for others to find out. It certainly feels good. On the downside, it occupies around half my desk and it encourages me to use the Apple ADB mouse Ⅱ as well because it can be easily plugged into the remaining ADB port and doesn't place another ugly cable across my desk.. That's not a bad mouse at all (if you have the one with the light ball) and I find it at least as precise as the LED-driven Apple Pro Mouse of this millennium It will also work right on my desk without needing a piece of paper beneath it.

So, yeah, I'm in the Extended Ⅱ camp as well, both because typing directly on the laptop can make your back or neck hurt and because the MacBook's keyboard isn't that fantastic. The touch is a bit too soft, the keys are partially unreliable and it's rather tricky to do 'acrobatics' like pressing the command and option key with the same finger because the MacBook keyboard was designed to avoid that.

I hope that Extended Ⅱ will last me for some more time and just like Gruber and Benjamin (I think people whose last names really are first names should have a right to complain to their parents) I might be interested in getting another one just in case. But who isn't?

I have to add that I found it refreshing to hear people who are designated Apple apologists bash some of of Apple's hardware for a change. But it dragged me down again to think that companies like Apple - and apparently pretty much most other people making keyboards as well - have given up even trying to make a good keyboard. I can see how complex devices like mobile phones end up being crap. They try to be a phone, and a calculator, and a computer, and a camera, and an address book, and a web browser, and many more things. And they are not equipped to be any of those in a good way. But a keyboard? That is a dedicated device with a single task it's made for. And a task that should be relatively simple to measure as well (in terms of speed, precision, pain). One could be forgiven to think that someone would just research the ergonomics and mechanics of the issue and build a keyboard that kicks butt. But no! Instead, people have to hunt for old IBM, Apple or otherwise mechanically sound keyboards.

Free markets: Everything better, all the time.

Extended Ⅱ keyboard and the mouse to go with it

April 30, 2008, 18:21

Tagged as apple, hardware, keyboard.


Comment by kirkrr: User icon

I miss the old Apple variable split keyboard (M1242). It was the last of the Apple ergonomic keyboards, and was really great, in that if you sit up close, you spread the keyboard (hinged at the top), and really far away, you could make it like a regular keyboard. Good key action as well.

May 1, 2008, 3:09

Comment by Cheryl: User icon

Makes me glad I have an Apple Extended II and an iMate in the closet in case my Tactile Pro bites the dust.

May 4, 2008, 18:50

Comment by Ken: User icon

I have three Apple Extended Keyboard II’s. And two iMates. I’ll be using them for long time.

The iMate is supposedly only supported up to Mac OS X 10.3.9, but I have had no problem with Tiger or Leopard, without the available driver installed. It just works. The only downside is losing one USB port, since I can’t connect my USB mouse to the keyboard.

One of my iMates stopped working recently. There’s a small thin battery inside the iMate. I’m not sure what it does, but I suspect that this battery has died. It looks like a standard electronic device battery, so I’ll go get a replacement when I have a chance. Good thing I have two of them.

May 6, 2008, 0:40

Comment by Jas: User icon

it’s funny…I love my Macbook keyboard. It’s the first laptop keyboard that has ever given me the feel I wanted from a keyboard in a laptop format. Which is baffling, because at work, on my PC, I use an old-school buckling spring keyboard, a clone of the original IBM keyboard from the PC/XT days. I am as loud as a machine gun when I type, but it’s just the right feel. I use an Extended II downstairs, on my Beige G3, but it’s been a while. I think I may need to go and give it a try.

May 13, 2008, 4:32

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