Touted as the next revolution in keyboard technology, the abKey is the brainchild of Singapore inventor Bob Teo who conceived the idea while watching the popular TV game show, Wheel of Fortune. Through the program, he became aware that some letters in the English language were used more often than others. These letters were later used to form the basic layout for the abKey.
Teo's interest in QWERTY started way back when he was working with a training firm at the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Technology Park where he noticed many people, particularly the older managers, struggling to type smoothly on the keyboard. Research led him to realise that the rationale behind QWERTY, designed with mechanical typewriters in mind, was no longer valid. Five years down the road, juggling work and family, and through numerous collaborations with individuals of various disciplines, Teo finally conceptualised the abKey.
Unlike QWERTY, the abKey is rearranged alphabetically with the most commonly used letters located on or near the home row, the default row of keys with which the user places his hand. The inventor claims that this improved layout design not only lets users type faster and more comfortably compared with QWERTY, it is also easier to learn. He is confident that most people can learn to touch type on the abKey in 1 hour.
Ergonomics-wise, the abKey features a keyboard that can be cracked into two halves and angled at an elevation to provide the least strain in typing position. The keyboard also comes with various additional keys such as shortcuts to the Web and multimedia functions as well as an onboard two-port USB hub.
Expect to be initially wowed by the array of colour options for the abKey, among them camouflage green and blood red. However, those with limited desktop real estate should note that the abKey occupies quite a fair bit of space.
The key feature here lies in an adjustable V-shaped design and elevated typing surface which makes it less of a strain to type for prolonged sessions. We found the rounded surface keys aesthetically pleasing and comfy to type on, although the poor tactile feedback from the keys may disappoint some users.
During our initial experience with a pre-production unit of the abKey, we found that switching from QWERTY to abKey took longer than expected. The greatest challenge was trying to get the mind to switch to the new alphabetical keyboard format. But once we got the hang of it, typing became rather intuitive. Interestingly, the layout of the keys forced one to use all 10 fingers to type rather than the first three fingers of each hand that this reviewer had become accustomed to under QWERTY. So touch typing should come naturally with practice, particularly for those with little prior experience with QWERTY.
The abKey will be available in Singapore and the U.S. from March 2005, with an estimated retail price of S$188 (US$114.63). There is currently no scheduled release for the Australian market.