The New Generation of Ergonomic Keyboards


Released in 2015, ZSA's Ergodox EZ was a pioneer of the latest generation of ergonomic keyboards, and it remains popular to this day. It has since been joined by the compact Voyager and the Moonlander Mark 1. According to ZSA's CEO and co-founder, Erez Zukerman, the company's Moonlander (Figure 4) has sold nearly 50,000 copies, and I would add that in many ways, it has become the standard by which other modern ergonomic keyboards are judged.

In all its keyboards, ZSA delivers a polished product. Its Oryx configuration GUI is set up for shortcuts that reduce common functions (such as replacing Ctrl+S for save with a single key stroke), and it makes heavy use of the Tap Dance macro, which allows a single key to have as many as five actions, depending on how the key is pressed and how often. Keymapp, its local configuration tool, is similarly designed, but adds a heat map that shows which keys are pressed the most (a statistic that is useful for the design of a custom layout), and a small layout map to display on the screen. Documentation and support for ZSA products could not be bettered, while customers are encouraged to share their layouts and produce tours of them or to post plans for hardware made with a 3D printer – some of which rival products that ZSA itself sells.

So far, ZSA has not produced a wireless or Bluetooth feature, on the grounds that the technologies are unreliable. Nor does it support complicated macros, although few users may miss them. More strangely, it encourages the use of a single leg on each half of the keyboard. This means that each half sits on a tripod of the wrist rest, the thumb key cluster, and a single leg – an arrangement that is unstable and hard to adjust. Fortunately, ZSA offers (reluctantly) another two legs as an accessory. However, none of these minor points keeps ZSA's boards from being highly popular or the best introduction to ergonomic keyboards.

Figure 4: ZSA's Moonlander is not only portable, but backed by software with user-friendly features.


The Growing Market

Major manufacturers have yet to pay more than token attention to ergonomics. Their neglect has left a gap that smaller companies using open source firmware are rapidly filling – perhaps to the point where the market might soon be saturated. Meanwhile, competition in this market is intense, with one company no sooner releasing a new feature than it is copied by the rest. For instance, hot swappable key switches recently became standard in about four years. Plainly, ergonomic keyboards are an expanding market. At this rate, the time may come when the standard cheap keyboard is as obsolete as writing on clay tablets.

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