We spend our days at a keyboard. Most of our nights, too. The keyboard is how we practice our craft. Something even a little bit more comfortable makes a world of difference. Something even a little bit better designed will help us be happier and more productive.
Over the years, we’ve tried pretty much every keyboard out there, but never found one we could fall in love with. In late 2012, we set out to build ourselves a better keyboard. Early on, we only wanted to make a couple for ourselves.
Of course, early on, we also thought this was a hobby project that was going to take a month.
Boy were we wrong.
On pretty much all counts.
It's taken far longer than we could have possibly imagined. We've had to learn 3D modeling, electrical engineering, soldering, lasercutting, 3D printing, and CNC milling. We've built dozens of prototypes and put them in front of hundreds of enthusiastic folks who type too much, including programmers, journalists, bloggers, writers, and gamers, to name just a few. From the start, people kept tellingusto "shutupandtakemy money," but we took our time because we really, really wanted to get this right.
The Model 01 is the best keyboard we can make. It's not like other keyboards. We mill the Model 01's enclosure from two blocks of solid maple that are a joy to rest your hands on. Instead of shallow, uncomfortable keyswitches, we use gloriously tactile mechanical keyswitches similar to those found in the original Apple II. We've custom-sculpted each of the 64 individual keycaps on the Model 01 to gently guide your fingers to the right keys. After putting it all together, the result is a keyboard that is a pleasure to type on all day and all night.
The first thing you'll notice when you look at the Model 01 is that it doesn't look like any keyboard you've ever seen.
We tried building keyboards out of plastic and metal, but they just didn't feel right. It was important to us that we create something that actually feels good to use. We precision-mill the Model 01 out of two blocks of maple. It's hard to convey in writing just how good it feels to rest your hands on the Model 01. In a lot of ways, the Model 01 feels more like a musical instrument than a computer peripheral.
Deciding to make a keyboard out of wood is a huge pain in the neck. Each keyboard needs to be individually milled and there are plenty of manufacturers who won't even talk to us because we're not using plastic.
But it's worth it.
Once you get your hands on a polished maple Model 01, you won't want to go back to another flat, plastic box.
A key layout based on your fingers
There's an old keyboard-nerd joke that goes something like this: "If alien archeologists landed on Earth a million years from now and tried to figure out what we looked like based on our keyboards, they'd probably figure that we had 10 tentacles coming out of our chests." The traditional staggered QWERTY layout was not designed for humans.
That being said, it's important to us that the Model 01 not feel too alien today. That's why we've based the default key layout on QWERTY. We've made some important changes, though: We've aligned the keys in columns so they're easier to reach without having to contort your fingers. The two halves of the keyboard are angled to help you keep your wrists in a more natural, neutral position.
If you've ever used a smartphone, you know that your thumbs are good for more than just whacking a big spacebar. The Model 01 moves some of the most frequently chorded keys away from your poor, overworked pinkie fingers to comfortable arcs right under your thumbs.
Underneath the thumb arcs, you'll see one of the Model 01's most unique features: a palm key. You can think of it as a Function key or a special sort of Shift. Dropping the base of your thumb onto it turns the H, J, K, and L keys into your arrow keys, turns the number keys into F-keys and even turns the WASD keys into a high-precision mouse.
The Model 01 ships with a QWERTY layout, but it also speaks Dvorak, Colemak, Workman, and a variant of the Malt layout. It is, of course, easily customizable, so you'll be able to make it speak your layout.
Yes, it has an "Any" key. No, we have no idea what it's supposed to do. But we bet you do.
It adjusts to fit your hands and your desk
Out of the box, the Model 01 provides a pretty comfortable experience for the vast majority of people who've tried it. However, your hands and your work setup aren't necessarily the same as ours, so we've designed the Model 01 to be easy for you to adjust and customize. The two halves of the keyboard are joined together by a center bar. Your Model 01 will come with both a flat bar and a "tented" bar. We're publishing the mounting specification, so you'll be able to build your own center bar, too.
The most standard configuration of the Model 01 places the two halves of the keyboard flat on your desk. If you're not used to an ergonomic keyboard or plan to use the Model 01 on your lap, the flat configuration will feel most natural to you.
The tented center bar angles the two halves of the Model 01 slightly up in the middle. (It looks a little like a tent, which is where this configuration gets its name.) If you've been typing on an ergonomic keyboard like the Microsoft Natural keyboard, the tented configuration should be comfortable and familiar to you.
You can position the two halves of the keyboard shoulder-width apart on your desk for a sublimely comfortable typing experience. (We've actually tested putting the two halves up to 15 feet apart and everything works just great. We just don't know anybody with arms that long.) The two halves of the keyboard connect with an old-school telephone cable that you can buy at RadioShack (if you can still find a RadioShack.)
Each half of the keyboard features a standard 1/4-20 camera tripod mount, perfect for building a custom keyboard stand.
The shiny stuff: Fully programmable LEDs
We've placed an independently programmable RGB LED underneath each and every key on the keyboard. Out of the box, the Model 01 can breathe, glow and do cute rainbow fade animations with the best of them, but the neat part is that each and every one of those LEDs is end-user controllable. With just a few lines of code in the Arduino IDE, you can completely customize the light show. Want your keyboard to start flashing red when you've been typing too long? No problem! Want to have your keyboard start spelling out your instant messages as they come in? Well, that'll be a little bit of code, but it's completely doable. Pixel art and Conway's Game of Life are totally doable, too.
And yes, you can turn them off.
We've been working on a graphical animation tool to let you build effects without code. It's not ready yet, but should be available before your keyboard ships.
Sculpted keycaps to guide your fingers
Most computer keyboard designs use at most 4 or 5 different key shapes–just one for each row. Our design goes to eleven... er, 64. Most keyboard manufacturers buy their keycaps from one of a handful of keycap makers. It took hundreds of hours of engineering, but we designed our keycaps from scratch.
We sculpted the Model 01's keycaps to gently guide your fingers to the correct places, making it just a little bit easier to hit the right key with the right finger. While this feels great if you already touch-type, it's also dramatically reduced the Model 01's learning curve for those of us who never learned "proper" typing in school.
When we talked to one of the world experts in keyboard ergonomics, he told us that we were absolutely nuts to design our own keycaps. Sure, they'd be more comfortable and reduce error rates, but the costs would be astronomical. (We've priced it out with vendors. It isn't cheap, but it isn't astronomically expensive either. More... stratospheric?)
When we talked to the buyer for one of the world's largest keyboard vendors, he told us that we are, to his knowledge, the only company on Earth designing custom keycaps for a high-end keyboard.
We think the time and effort has been worth it, and we're confident you will too.
The standard keycaps will have QWERTY legends.
We will be making additional sets of keycaps available for sale, as well.
High-quality mechanical keyswitches
Keyswitches are the soul of a keyboard. More and more, over the last 20 years, computer keyboards have lost their soul.
Way back when, typing on a keyboard actually felt good. You'd press a key and you could feel a nice, satisfying, mechanical click. As computers got more and more popular, manufacturers started cutting corners. Mechanical keyswitches were replaced with little rubber domes or plastic scissor mechanisms. Rather than registering when you'd pressed them about halfway down like "real" keyswitches, you have to slam your fingers into the keyboard to make them work. To add insult to injury, they don't even feel that nice to type on.
We've scoured the globe, testing dozens of different keyswitches from companies including Cherry, Unicomp, Greetech, Kailh, Gateron, Topre, and Razer before selecting what we believe to be some of the best keyswitches made today: the Matias Quiet Click mechanical keyswitches.
The Quiet Click switches were designed in Canada by Edgar Matias. Starting from the design of the ALPS keyswitches used in some of Apple's most legendary keyboards from the last century, Matias reengineered them to slide more smoothly when pressed from just about any angle and to be quiet enough to use in a meeting. They're still satisfyingly tactile with a delightfully clicky feel when pressed.
True N-key rollover (NKRO)
For a variety of reasons, many USB keyboards limit you to pressing 6 keys (plus modifiers) at once. Most of us would never notice this limitation, but an intrepid few really, really need to be able to hit more than six keys at once.
If you need NKRO, we've got you covered. The NKRO-over-USB technique we're using works great on Windows, MacOS X and Linux without any special drivers.
Getting this right requires a combination of hardware and software. On the hardware side, we've paired each keyswitch with the requisite diode. On the software side, it's just smart coding inside the keyboard's USB firmware.
The learning curve
We're not going to beat around the bush. The Model 01 is not for everybody. If you don't already touch type on a split keyboard with the keys arranged in columns, expect some frustration as you come up to speed on the Model 01. Typically, most typists start to get acclimated to a new key layout like ours within a few hours, but true mastery of a new key layout is an investment that can take a month or two to really start to pay off.
Anybody who buys the Model 01 should know that there’s an adjustment period. Plan to work on it full time for about a week or two weeks before you get really used to the new layout. It's going to be a little slow and a little frustrating at first, but it’s worthwhile in the end for the long term benefits.
We've built the Model 01 around the same ATmega32U4 microcontroller that Arduino uses in the Arduino Leonardo. Early on, we figured we'd eventually switch away to a cheaper ARM microcontroller, but then we fell in love with just how easy Arduino makes it for a new programmer to get up to speed. For all intents and purposes, the Model 01's brain is "just" a regular Arduino. You can update your keyboard from the Arduino IDE. If you want to make your keyboard do something special, there are thousands of Arduino resources online to help you out. While we haven't ported it ourselves, other keyboard firmware like TMK that runs on AVR microcontrollers should be pretty easy to adapt for your Model 01.
If that sort of thing isn't your cup of tea, don't worry about it. You don't need to know anything about electronics or embedded programming to use the Model 01. It's a keyboard. You can just take it out of the box, plug it in and start typing.
Source code and a screwdriver
These days, it feels like you have to pick between an open, hackable kit and a well-designed product that's fully working right out of the box. You shouldn't have to choose.
We believe, quite strongly, that you own the things you buy from us. You are 100% welcome to open your keyboard up, flash its firmware, reflash its bootloader, solder weird connectors onto the circuit boards or flash our firmware onto something else. (Do note that we're not going to be able to help you out a lot after you do some of those things.) To make all of this as easy as possible for you, your Model 01 will ship with a screwdriver, firmware & bootloader source code, schematics, and all the CAD you need to design your own enclosure.
You may never need any of that, but when you want it, it'll be there waiting for you.