I’m a fan of the Kinesis Advantage keyboard, but it’s definitely long-in-the-tooth these days. The keyboard’s basic design reaches back over twenty years. The current USB version was introduced in 2002, and I don’t think there have been any significant changes in the past twelve years. I’ve seen rumors of a re-vamped version, but nothing has been released.
As you can tell from my previous posts, I believe there is a big difference between convenience features (such as wireless, backlit keys, etc.) and ergonomic features in keyboards. On the ergonomics side I don’t think Kinesis needs to make many changes to what is a popular design. There are some changes that could be made, such as perhaps splitting the left and right sides, or making the keyboard more adjustable. On the convenience side, however, I think there are a lot of changes Kinesis could make to the keyboard.
Here are my suggestions for the next generation of the Kinesis Advantage:
Cut the cord
When I originally wrote the heading above I was thinking wireless (see below) but the truth is, the one thing that has annoyed me the most over the years about the Advantage is that the USB cable is permanently connected to the keyboard. USB connectors can get damaged, sometimes people want shorter cords, etc. Kinesis should switch to using a USB port instead of a built-in cable, so users can choose the cord length they want to use, and can swap out damaged cables, etc.
Adding wireless to keyboards is relatively cheap and easy these days. Keyboards, being right in front of you on your desk, are an obviously annoying place to have to deal with cables. Add Bluetooth support and a battery that can be charged via USB. The battery should be removable, so it can be replaced as needed (no battery lasts forever).
Kinesis may have helped create the Cherry MX Brown switches used in the Advantage, but they haven’t kept up with fact that many keyboards available today that use MX Browns also have LED backlighting. In an ideal world anyone using a keyboard would have proper lighting and wouldn’t need backlighting, but when you do need it, it’s nice to have. They should include a way to adjust the level of brightness of the LEDs as well.
Take a look at the photo above. See that huge space between the key wells? It’s practically screaming for a touchpad. You could have a touchpad that is the same size as the one on a MacBook Pro in that space, without having to change the spacing of the keyboard at all (they would just need to move the status LEDs). Having it in the middle means it can be used both left-handed and right-handed people. It might not be the most ergonomic of choices, but it would be very useful for those who want it. It could be an optional feature. I’m open to other pointing devices, but this seems ideal from a space usage point of view, and multi-touch enables lots of useful features (like scrolling).
Space below the keyboard
When Kinesis originally designed the Advantage, it was probably used mostly with desktop computers. If people were using laptops, they were huge compared to the ones produced today. One of the things people notice about the Advantage is how tall it is compared to the average keyboard. Considering that the Advantage is wider than most notebook computers today, and that many notebooks like the MacBook Pro/Air are very very thin, it is probably possible to insert a space beneath the keyboard so it can be slid on top of a notebook, covering up the front section of the computer. This would allow the user to get closer to their screen if they want, reducing eye-strain. I haven’t opened up an Advantage to see how close the internals are to the bottom of the case, but I would think this could be done without major changes to the keyboard internals.
Built-in Web Server
The Advantage keyboard has another feature besides its ergonomics that set it apart over a decade ago when it was introduced – it supports programmable macros. Macros are more common these days to be sure, so Kinesis needs to step up its game here as well. One way to do that is to build in a web server, allowing users of the keyboard to connect to it from any device, regardless of platform, and configure the keyboard. This could allow re-mapping keys, seeing what macros are currently set, allowing one to create new macros, etc.
None of the changes are ground-breaking changes that will revolutionize the world of keyboards, but all together I think they will make for a much better product, and something much more enjoyable to use. The Advantage is a great keyboard, but it is definitely showing its age, and these changes would make it competitive with more modern keyboards not just because of its distinctive finger wells, but on every other metric as well.