Posts From April 2012

Glenn Fleishman gives an overview of a fantastic new feature addition to Dropbox that rolled out last week:

New features rolled out Monday extend Dropbox’s reach substantially by making it possible to create a public, revokable link to any file or folder in a Dropbox sync folder. Previously, only items in a special Public folder could be shared, and the links couldn’t be canceled; the item had to be moved out of the folder.

A lot of people are asking me what keyboard rig I use with my iPad. The answer is this Origami Workstation from Incase with the Apple Bluetooth keyboard. I want a keyboard rig that doesn’t convert my iPad into a full-time laptop, but yet allows me to use it easily with a Bluetooth keyboard. This Origami Workstation is perfect.

My dilemma has been in finding a small, high-quality, good-looking, affordable bag that is just big enough to hold the iPad and the Origami along with a few white cables.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to using the iPad as a laptop is finding a case. These guys describe exactly my same situation and frustration in trying to find a case for my iPad. They’ve designed their own case which they are now kickstarting. Me? I’m still Googling for something and complaining about it on my blog.

Lots of great new features, but: Droplr support! Woohoo!

Why the iPad Is My New Laptop

My Mac setup used to consist of a Mac Pro and a MacBook Pro. When I realized that the laptop was plenty powerful to serve as my only computer I sold the Mac Pro on Craigslist, shedding a tear as I said goodbye to her jaw-dropping speeds, and have been a one-machine Mac user since.

That is, until recently.

I once again find myself using two computers. Except this time it’s my MacBook Air that serves as my “desktop” while my iPad is now my “laptop.” 1

And I’m not the only one. Within my circle of friends, I know several people who are also using their iPad as their portable computer. I even have a handful friends who have an iPad as their only computer.

It is not a sacrifice to use the iPad as a primary device. I wanted to take a look at some of the most compelling reasons to use an iPad as your portable, if not your only, computer.

  • Battery life: When I bought my original iPad back in 2010, people often asked me what the best thing about it was. My answer was always the battery.

    The iPad is like the Kindle in that two of its greatest features are its absurd battery life and its crisp display. The iPad gets 9 or more hours of battery life without breaking a sweat. And that’s with the display around 60% brightness while using LTE data.

    Thanks to its battery life, the iPad can pretty much work or play for as long as you can. How many times have you taken your laptop to work only to plug it in as soon as you got there? Or, when you go to a coffee shop, do you not look for a table near an outlet? I used to own two power adapters for my MacBook Pro — one for home and one for my office — so that I wouldn’t have to carry one with me during my commutes to and from work.

    The iPad’s battery obviates the need to think about when and where you can next plug your device in. You unplug it when you start your day, you (maybe) plug it back in when you go to bed, and you don’t have to think about it in between.

  • Size and weight: Akin to its great battery life, another fine feature of the iPad is how small and lightweight it is. You can easily slip the iPad into your bag, or carry it in a case, with virtually no regard. Even a MacBook Air is not so easily portable. And, the iPad is more rugged than a laptop. I don’t mind tossing my iPad over onto a couch cushion, or into the back seat of my car.

  • You don’t have to pull it out at airports: This advantage speaks for itself.

  • LTE: Having a device which is connected to the Internet no matter where you are is a huge advantage. It seems that nearly everything we do with our computers today needs an internet connection. Even when I’m doing something as simple as writing, I am working with files that are stored in the cloud, and so I need access to Dropbox and Simplenote to get at my current documents and to save whatever new work I’ve just written.

    Remember when the iPad was first introduced and everyone quipped that it was just a giant iPod touch? In some ways, an iPad with a cellular data connection is like a giant iPhone. In that it has instant access to services and information that you must have a data connection in order to get. I’ve been taking my iPad with me for errands when I’m driving around town. Times when I need maps or directions I can get faster data on a larger screen using the iPad. And, if I’m waiting somewhere, the iPad makes for a better reading or writing device than my iPhone.

  • Cost of device: The entry price for an iPad is $399 (a base-model, iPad 2). The entry price for a Mac is $999 (a base-model MacBook Air).

    Though I don’t have any data to support this assumption, but my guess is that most people who buy a Mac, buy just the Mac. Whereas those who buy an iPad also buy a Smart Cover and also (for those who intend to use the iPad as their portable (if not only) device) a Bluetooth keyboard and perhaps some sort of keyboard stand.

    Of course the pricing and configuration options are virtually endless. And, at the end of the day, a well-equipped iPad is not significantly less expensive than a basic MacBook Air. But, if anything, the perceived cost of an iPad is lower. And, for those who need only the bare necessities, an iPad truly is much cheaper than a laptop.

    Another advantage to the low cost of the iPad is the replacement cost. Once you own all the extras that go with your iPad, you only have to replace the device itself if yours breaks or when you upgrade.

  • Cost of apps: As of this writing, the average price of the top 100 paid iPad apps is $3.12. The average price of the top 100 paid Mac apps is $18.56.

    It’s not an exact apples-to-apples comparison to pit iPad apps against Mac apps. The latter are, generally, far more robust and feature rich. But there is something enticing about being able to buy a note-taking app or a game or a blogging app for a fraction of the price when buying it for you iPad. Especially when you may not need the robustness and additional features that the Mac versions have.

  • iCloud backup and restore: One of the greatest and yet most-unsung features of iCloud and iOS are the automatic, nightly backups of your data.

    If my iPad were to get catastrophically damaged right now, I wouldn’t lose a sliver of data. I could go to the Apple store, buy a new device, log in with my iCloud username, and restore from backup. Within a matter of hours I’d be right where I left off.

  • Utility and variety: The iPad, at its base functionality, is little more than a screen. Whatever you are using the device for — reading, writing, watching a movie — that is what the sort of device the iPad turns into. The oft-mentioned sentiment that the iPad becomes the app you have opened is true. And I think it is a feature of the device and of iOS.

    My computer is where I do so many different tasks. Many are personal, many are work related. I pay bills, I write, I work, I do research, I have work email and personal email, I organize and edit family pictures, and more. When I sit down at my computer, all of these tasks want to present themselves to me at the same time — I find that, for me, it takes a rigorous schedule and self-discipline to stay focused on only one task.

    The iPad, however, comes with a natural anti-distraction software: iOS itself. The iPad makes a great multi-use device because it doesn’t distract or beckon away from the task at hand.

There are, of course, many things which you cannot do on an iPad.

Two prime examples for me are my use of QuickBooks and InDesign. And then there are the things which can be done on an iPad or a laptop, but which are done more efficiently on the latter. Another personal example: email. I am much better at processing email with my laptop because of the many AppleScripts and keyboard shortcuts I use in order to file and act on my messages.

Which is why I could not get by with an iPad only. But I am comfortable traveling without my MacBook Air, and there are often times when I prefer to work from the smaller device rather than at the comfort of my Mac. The iPad is a compelling computer, and it is quickly maturing right before our eyes.


  1. People have asked me why I don’t replace my MacBook Air with an iMac. While it’s true that my Air spends most of its time docked to my Cinema Display, I don’t want it to be forever anchored at my desk. When I leave the house I usually take only the iPad. However, I don’t want that to be a requirement — I want to be able to take my MacBook Air with me whenever I want or need to.

Neven Mrgan’s review of a new iOS app that scans for and automatically imports all the screenshots on your device and then gives you a whole host of options to reference and work with them.

The way iOS handles screenshots is pathetic. One of my favorite things about webOS on the HP TouchPad was how it handled screenshots. Not only did they get their own photo gallery, but they were intelligently named using the application name and date for which the screenshot was taken.

Call me a one-string fiddle, but I don’t think the iPod nano has potential as a smartwatch type of device until it gets Siri and can connect remotely to our iPhones.

On this, the 58th episode of The B&B Podcast, Ben and I talk about camping, grilling, and wallets, as well as iPad keyboard accessories which are meant to turn your iPad into a laptop.

A Mighty Bloodless Substitute for Work

Stephen Marche, in this month’s cover story for The Atlantic, talks about a subject that I am continually interested in: the balance between being connected on social networks and being disconnected from the ever-present, ever-active World Wide Web.

Marche writes:

Our online communities become engines of self-image, and self-image becomes the engine of community. The real danger with Facebook is not that it allows us to isolate ourselves, but that by mixing our appetite for isolation with our vanity, it threatens to alter the very nature of solitude. The new isolation is not of the kind that Americans once idealized, the lonesomeness of the proudly nonconformist, independent-minded, solitary stoic, or that of the astronaut who blasts into new worlds. Facebook’s isolation is a grind. What’s truly staggering about Facebook usage is not its volume—750 million photographs uploaded over a single weekend—but the constancy of the performance it demands. More than half its users—and one of every 13 people on Earth is a Facebook user—log on every day. Among 18-to-34-year-olds, nearly half check Facebook minutes after waking up, and 28 percent do so before getting out of bed. The relentlessness is what is so new, so potentially transformative. Facebook never takes a break. We never take a break. Human beings have always created elaborate acts of self-presentation. But not all the time, not every morning, before we even pour a cup of coffee.

This is part of the same topic that yesterday’s link to Jason Kottke’s post was about. His point was along the idea that our smartphones are isolating us. And, as I’ve written before, it also seems to be the problem that the marketing teams for both Windows Phone and Google’s Project Glass are trying to solve.

But is it the device that’s the problem? Or is it the access to apps, networks, status updates, and personal analytics that the device gives us? I think we would all agree that it’s access to the latter.

Suppose our iPhones only had apps like Simplenote, Agenda, OmniFocus, the camera, maps, and the SMS and phone apps. If that were the case, would we still be so prone to pull our phones out? How often would we reach for our iPhones if they were absent of any and all apps that are ripe for casually checking (such as email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and RSS)?

Put another way: if our smartphones were only capable of two things — (a) direct person-to-person communication, and (b) content creation/management — would we still be pulling them out at stoplights and during commercial breaks? I think not.

In 2010, I wrote an article about Inbox Zero and how it’s all about the outbox. I’m reposting parts of it below, as I don’t think I could say it any better now than I did then:

Inbox Zero is more about how I approach my inbox than how I process what’s in it. And it’s not just the email anymore. There’s Twitter, Instagram, my blog stats, my RSS subscriptions, my Instapaper queue, and who knows what else. These are all inboxes, and they all want to be checked.

Inbox Zero means I care more about the outbox than the inbox. It means I choose to focus my time, energy, and attention on creating something worthwhile instead of feeding some unhealthy addiction to constantly check my inboxes. Pressing the Get New Mail button or refreshing my Twitter stream is like pulling the crank on a slot machine. Did I win? No. Did I win? No.

It’s not that these networks are bad. On the contrary. I get a great deal of personal and professional value out of Twitter and email. But Inbox Zero means I care more about building relationships and getting real work done than I do about my narcissistic tendencies of knowing who’s talking about me on Twitter. It means I care more about doing my best creative work than about keeping up with the Real-Time Web and being instantly accessible via email.

To be addicted to our inboxes is the path towards errors of omission. Or, to paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson: Inboxes are good enough in their own right, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for work.

Interesting and thought-provoking post from Jason Kottke today where he draws a relationship between the way automobiles have caused a decline in walking and the way iPhones — or, perhaps more accurately: smartphones — have cause a decline in personal conversations.

I think his concluding sentence is very accurate (I won’t quote it here because I think you should read his whole post), and it’s something for which Windows Phone and Google’s Project Glass both have done marketing campaigns to try and say that they’ve “solved” the smartphone addiction problem.

From where I’m sitting, it seems to me that the only way to be “saved” from our phones is through self-control and intentional cultivation of real-life relationships.

Who doesn’t love the AeroPress?

I’m learning all sorts of new nvALT tricks this week.

QuickShot, an iPhone app which I use to log receipts when on the go, got a nice update this week. One of the hallmark new features is that it now has “Capture Profiles”. Use these to pre-define different settings (such as image resolution, which Dropbox folder, and file naming scheme) for different types of images or videos you want to capture (such as receipts, to-dos, etc.).

My thanks to Minigroup for sponsoring the RSS feed this week.


An Atlanta design firm uses Minigroup to work smarter and keep its clients happy

Braizen uses Minigroup to manage projects and collaborate and communicate with their clients.

A minigroup is a private, secure online space where members communicate with posts and comments, share large files, and manage projects.

Braizen uses one minigroup like an intranet, to discuss business and assign tasks. They also create separate minigroups for each client, where employees working on various accounts present comp designs and drafts.

“Telling potential clients that we use this tool, where we’ll keep in constant contact with them, definitely helps seal the deal,” says Tyrie, the copywriter at Braizen.

Watch the full interview with Braizen.

Minigroups start at just $3 per year for owners, with plans up to 100 minigroups and 100GB of storage. There are no user/member fees.

June 11 – 15 at Moscone West in San Francisco.

Update: It’s now sold out. That was fast; it took less than two hours.

Amazing. Why don’t they just put up a sign: Apple. We’re Doing Very Well.

Paul Miller, Senior Editor at The Verge, gives his review of the professional man’s way to keep all your text notes in sync across all your devices. Simplenote and Notational Velocity.

New-to-me-trick: When you’re working on a note in Notational Velocity, you can hit Shift+CMD+E to open that note in your text editor of choice (you can set which editor in NV’s preferences). Hit save in the editor and your changes are pushed back over into NV. After all these years, I cannot believe I never knew about that little power feature. That’s a game changer for me.

Gorgeous timelapse video.

Paul Graham:

Errors of omission are a particularly dangerous type of mistake, because you make them by default.

This also would have made a great accompanying soundtrack to my Clicky Keyboard article. (Via Kevin W.)

Clicky Keyboards

As do most people, I suspect, I’ve always used the keyboard that came with my computer.

The first computer I ever used on a regular basis belonged to my tech-savvy grandfather. I’d play games on it during the weekends when my family visited, until one summer when he upgraded and my folks inherited the hand-me-down IBM. Many years and a few family computers later, I bought my own computer: a Dell laptop that went off to college with me.

After the Dell was my first Mac, the iconic 12-inch PowerBook G4. A few years later, in the spring of 2007, I bought a Mac Pro. The Mac Pro is a beast of a machine. So beastly, in fact, that it doesn’t come with a single peripheral attachment — you have to pick out your own monitor, keyboard, mouse, and anything else you may need. And so, for the first time, I got to pick my own keyboard. At the time, I didn’t know any better and so I went with an off-the-shelf Bluetooth white plastic Apple Pro Keyboard.

The white and clear Apple Pro Keyboard was perhaps the worst keyboard ever designed in California. It was dull and soft to type on, it was neither quiet nor loud, and it had a see-through casing to display all the food crumbs, wrist hairs, and dead bugs that fell between the keys.

In the fall of 2007, Apple redesigned their keyboards to the new slim aluminum keyboards they still sell today. I eventually bought one of those to go with my Mac Pro. Though the thinness of the keyboard made it seem to me like a less-serious keyboard for folks who type a lot, it looked extremely cool. And we all know how important it is to have a clean and hip-looking desk.

It turns out, however, that Apple’s slim aluminum keyboard is quite nice to type on. I’ve been typing on them in some fashion or another ever since 2007. In addition to the full-sized USB version I bought to replace my clear Apple Pro Keyboard, I also bought one in Bluetooth flavor to pair with my original iPad, and the MacBook Air I bought last summer has the slim chicklet-style keyboard built in.

Recently, when I was interviewed on Daniel Bogan’s site, The Setup, he asked me what my dream computing setup would be. My reply was that thought I pretty much already have a dream setup, the one component that I have never truly considered is that which I interface with nearly the most: the keyboard. I wrote:

I think I might like a better keyboard. I’ve never thought anything bad about the slim Apple bluetooth keyboard I use, but recently I spent some time using my cousin’s mechanical keyboard and there was a completely different feel to it. I’ve never been a keyboard snob, but considering my profession, perhaps the time to get snobby about keyboards has come.

As someone who writes for a living it befuddles me why I never thought to research a proper keyboard.

As a computer-nerd-slash-writer, I am always looking and advocating for the right tools. But for years, I have always equated “writing tools” with “software” — I own more text editors than I have fingers to type with — but it never dawned on me until recently that a good keyboard could be equally as important as a good text editor.

I own a dozen different writing applications, a programming application or two, an email application, and a blog-posting application. And what do they all have in common? They all get typed into via a single, solitary device: my keyboard.

A month ago I ordered a Das Keyboard for my Mac. Not because I was dissatisfied with my beautiful and trusty Apple keyboard; rather, I needed to know if life could be better with a bigger, louder, and uglier keyboard.

When I placed the order, I had no idea what I was getting into. Owning a mechanical keyboard is like owning a Jeep Wrangler — there is an unspoken fraternity amongst owners that others don’t quite “get” and which I honestly don’t think I can explain in a blog post of only a few thousand words.

Mechanical keyboards like the Das are bulky, loud, and fantastic for typing. Compared to the slim Apple keyboards, the Das is different in every way except that the end result is still the same: words get onto the screen.

How I felt when I upgraded my keyboard to a mechanical one, reminds me of the excitement James Fallows felt when changing from a typewriter to a personal computer for the first time:

What was so exciting? Merely the elimination of all drudgery, except for the fundamental drudgery of figuring out what to say, from the business of writing.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Das Keyboard has eliminated all computing drudgery, but I would say that it has greatly enhanced the act of typing. Especially the act of typing for long periods of time, which I happen to do on a daily basis.

The construction of a mechanical keyboard is much more friendly to typing. As I discovered by taking several typing tests (the results of which I share below), a mechanical keyboard actually does help me to type both faster and more accurately. The sound of the keys clacking and the feel of the key switches clicking makes for an aura of productivity and work that fills the senses.

When using a mechanical keyboard you don’t just see your words appear on the screen as you type them, you also feel and hear them. A mechanical keyboard engages all the senses but smell and taste. Which is why you should always type with a hot coffee at your side.

The Keyboards

The sound, size, and durability of a mechanical keyboard make it a device to be reckoned with. It is a wholly different keyboard than the slim Apple ones, but that is not to say I have been turned off to the slim Apple keyboard. When I’m working on my iPad (using the bluetooth keyboard) or my MacBook Air’s built-in keyboard, I still type quickly and comfortably.

This review has been typed out using three of the most popular mechanical keyboards for Mac. They are:

  • Das Keyboard Professional Model S: This is the keyboard that I started with. I pre-ordered one a few months ago for $113, and it arrived about a month ago. The Das Keyboards begin shipping on Friday, April 27 for $133.

  • Apple Extended Keyboard II: Bought on eBay, the keyboard itself is circa 1990, uses Alps switches, was not made in Mexico, and cost me $31.45 shipped. I also had to purchase an ADB cable for $8.35 and a Griffn iMate ADB to USB adapter for $25. Total cost: $64.80.

  • Matias Tactile Pro 3: A well-known 3rd-party keyboard that bills itself as the modern version of the Apple Extended II. It seemed unfair to write a review of Apple mechanical keyboards and not include the Matias Tactile Pro. These sell for $149, but Matias was kind and generous enough to send me a review unit.

Further down I have written more in-depth about the sound, feel, and overall typing experience of each of these three keyboards. But, before we get into that, let’s first check out some side-by-side statistics to give context for the general differences between these three keyboards.

Weight & Size

Keyboard Length (in) Height (in) Weight (lb)
Apple Extended II 18.68 7.50 3.75
Das Keyboard 18.00 5.83 2.53
Tactile Pro 3 18.00 6.50 2.96
Slim Apple, Full, USB 16.80 4.50 1.25
Slim Apple Bluetooth 11.00 5.25 0.69

Typing Scores

They say that using a mechanical keyboard doesn’t necessarily make you a more productive typist. But based on the typing tests I took it would appear that a mechanical keyboard does improve your actual typing productivity.

I took this typing test to measure the speed and accuracy of my typing. As you can see, I typed the slowest and the least accurate on the Apple slim aluminum chicklet-style keyboard that I’ve been using for over 4 years. My fastest and most accurate test was performed on the Das Keyboard.

Keyboard Words Per Minute Accuracy
Das Keyboard 91 100%
Tactile Pro 3 81 95%
Apple Extended II 80 95%
Slim Apple 74 93%

I typed a staggering 15 words-per-minute faster on my Das Keyboard than on my Apple slim keyboard, and at least 10 words-per-minute faster than on the Matias or the Apple Extended keyboards. And the words typed on the Das were more accurate. The difference in speed adds up to at least 900 additional words (with fewer typos) for every hour of typing.

Of course, nobody types at a constant rate, especially when the typing is creative. But nevertheless. Considering I spend nearly 6 hours a day at my computer, mostly typing, that difference in speed and accuracy is not insignificant.

Sound

Not all clicky keyboards are noisy, but I greatly enjoy the sound of the mechanical keyboards. At first I was timid about the noise coming from my home office, but I have since become acclimated and comfortable with it. Even proud of it.

Each keyboard I tried has a different sound. The Apple Extended II is the quietest and has the lowest tone of clack. The Tactile Pro 3 is the loudest and has a hollow ring that accompanies the clicks of the keys (more on this later). And the Das Keyboard has a crisp higher-pitched click.

Of the three I prefer the sound of the Das Keyboard the best. But, if I could mix and match, I would place the letter keys of the Das with the spacebar of the Apple Extended II and the Backspace of the Tactile Pro.

Here is a brief audio overview of the sounds between the Das Keyboard, the Apple Extended Keyboard II, and the Matias Tactile Pro 3:

Mechanical Key Switches

As I began researching mechanical keyboards and the different types of switches they use, I had no idea the rabbit hole I was crawling into. For brevity’s sake, I’m only going to share a little bit about the differences between the switches found in the 3 keyboards I have.

If you want to learn more about mechanical keyboards and the various switches used, then I’d start with this Mechanical Keyboard Guide. The writer of this thread wrote a well-said opening paragraph for why you want a mechanical keyboard:

For most people it’s all about the feel. With the keyboard you’re typing on right now you’ve got to press the key all the way down to the bottom to get it to register. This wastes a lot of energy and causes fatigue, as most of your effort is spent pushing against a solid piece of plastic. Mechanical keyswitches are designed so that they register before you bottom out, so you only need to apply as much force as is necessary to actuate it, not wasting any. And with as many different types of switches as there are you can pick and choose which one you’re the most comfortable with, as each one has a different feel to it. And most people who try one can never go back to using rubber domes, as they realize just how “mushy” they really feel.

As I quickly discovered, not all mechanical key switches sound or feel the same. Not only are there many different designs of switches, but some are better for typing, some are better for gaming, some have a slight snap-resistance that provides a tactile feedback as you press the key, and some give off a noisy click or clack.

Of the three keyboards I tested, they use two (yea three) different switches:

  • Blue Cherry MX switches in the Das Keyboard
  • Complicated white ALPS in the Apple Extended II
  • Simplified white ALPS in the Tactile Pro

For reference, the slim Apple keyboards shipping today all use plastic scissor switches. Most all laptops use scissor switches because it allows for about half the travel of the more common dome switches used in most all commodity keyboards.1

Cherry Switches

The Das Keyboard uses blue Cherry MX switches. The blue Cherry MX switches have a very pronounced 2-stage travel with a very audible click that happens upon activation.

Blue Cherry MX Switches

The total travel of a Cherry Blue MX switch is 4mm; the switch actuates and clicks half-way down at the 2mm mark.

This two-stage click is not nearly as pronounced on the ALPS switches, and it is this pronounced two-stage click that leads many people to consider the blue Cherry MX switches to be the best for typing. They have low resistance and a very noticeable tactical “bump” or “click” that can easily be felt when typing.

You don’t have to bottom out the key to get it to activate. Once you’ve pressed past the “click” at the 2mm mark, that is when the key switch activates and the keystroke is registered by the computer. It’s hard to explain the tactile sensation of typing on the Das Keyboard compared to using the Apple Extended or the Tactile Pro. I would say that because of the pronounced 2-stage switch, the Das has a more defined tactile feel, is less work, and is more enjoyable to type on.

ALPS Switches

ALPS switches are not only a type of switch, but also a brand. Tokyo-based Alps Electric Co., Ltd. makes the switches. You may have also heard of their brand of car audio gear: Alpine.

The Apple Extended Keyboard uses white Alps switches, as does the Tactile Pro. However, the Apple Extended Keyboard uses what is known as “Complicated ALPS” switches, while the Tactile Pro uses “Simplified AlPS.” This is because the complicated switches are no longer in production.

Over time, the complicated ALPS switches can be known to generate resistance because of dust and other elements that can build up within the switch. The Simplified ALPS switches, which the Tactile Pro uses, are less prone to this.

Based on my typing experience with both the Tactile Pro and the Apple Extended II, the Simplified ALPS switches give a bit more resistance than the older Complicated switches. The newer ones seem to have a more pronounced “click” or initial force of resistance. They are also louder. This is not necessarily a bad thing — one of the things that makes mechanical keyboards so great for typing is their click and their clack.

Apple Extended Keyboard II

Apple Extended Keyboard II Mac Setup

Before you’ve even typed a word, the first thing you notice about the Apple Extended Keyboard II is how huge it is. The AEK is the widest keyboard of the bunch. It measures just wider than 18.5 inches. My son, Noah, was 19.5 inches when he was born. He could have taken a nap on the Apple Extended Keyboard. Who knows, he may have written something clever in the process.

With the AEK on my desk, my 23-inch Apple Cinema Display, which measures 21-inches across, now seems tinier than it used to. When I used the thin and sleek Apple Bluetooth keyboard, the cinema display seemed so large in contrast. With the Apple Extended Keyboard in front of the monitor, the screen now has a peer it must reckon with.

Next, you realize that the Home Row markers are on the “D” and the “K” as opposed to the “F” and the “J”. The latter is now the de facto standard and it takes some time to acclimate to the feel of the markers being under my two middle fingers rather than my two pointer fingers.

Lastly, the Apple Extended II uses an ADB cable. The keyboard I bought off eBay didn’t come with the cable, so I had to buy an ADB cable separately ($8) along with a Griffin iMate (an ADB to USB adapter that cost me another $25 on eBay).

I had been typing on my Das Keyboard for nearly two weeks before the Apple Extended II arrived. I expected it to sound and feel nearly the same as the Das Keyboard, but the complicated white ALPS switches are quite different than the blue Cherry MX switches. It is true that they are both clicky mechanical keyboards, but if you did not know that and you were only to type on each of these you would not classify them as being the same type of keyboard.

My Apple Extended II feels softer and sounds quieter than both other mechanical keyboards I have here. If you’re listening to the different audio tracks I’ve recorded, the MP3s may sound a bit deceiving. Sitting here, in my office, the Apple Extended Keyboard II is the quietest of the bunch. It is certainly not quiet — but it does not have the same high-pitched click. The Das is like a snap, the AEK is like a clap. The AEK has more bass to it, and the sound is more muted.

Again, I don’t know if the stark differences are because the ALPS switches in my Apple Extended II are used and 22 years old, or because they are the complicated ALPS switches. Perhaps I will never know because I don’t feel compelled to invest nearly $200 for a “brand new” 22-year-old Apple keyboard. The $32-find I got on eBay is simply the best one that was guaranteed to work and which was not assembled in Mexico.

Matias Tactile Pro 3

Matias Tactile Pro 3 Mac Setup

The Matias Tactile Pro bills itself as the modern version of the Apple Extended Keyboard II. Though the look of the Tactile Pro is patterned after the design of black-keyed Apple Pro Keyboard circa 2000, it uses white ALPS switches, akin to the 1990-era Apple Extended and Extended II keyboards. But the switches are not the exact same because those used in the Apple Extended are no longer made today.

The key switches on the Tactile Pro feel very different than those on my Apple Extended Keyboard II. The click-down on the Matias is much more pronounced than on the AEK II. Though I am not fully certain that this is because of the difference in switches rather than the age of my Apple Extended keyboard, the reviews I read online about the differences between the complicated and the simplified ALPS switches did seem to be concurrent with my experience.

Typing on the Tactile Pro is bittersweet for me. The tactile feedback of the key switches is quite pleasant, and there is a firm resistance within the switches that gives the keyboard a sturdy and hearty feel. I like the slightly higher resistance that the Tactile Pro gives.

Moreover, the sound of the Tactile Pro when typing is much louder than the Apple Extended II. I like the louder volume, but unfortunately it has a hollow sound to it that seems incongruous with the sturdiness of the switches. Additionally, there is a ringing that echoes around in the chassis of the keyboard itself.

Here is an audio recording which tries to catch the ringing that reverberates after a keystroke. You may need to turn your volume up to hear it:

After typing on the Matias for two days, as much as I liked the tactile feel of it, the sound was constantly a distraction. I asked Matias about the ring, and was informed that the noise comes from the springs in the ALPS key switches. Matias tells me they are advancing the key switches to remove the ringing in a future version of the Tactile Pro. Also, the chassis design of the original Tactile Pro is built in such a way that the spring ring is not nearly as audible.

Das Keyboard

Das Keyboard Mac Setup

This new model of the Das, which has the keys mapped out especially for a Mac, seems to be re-kindling the interest in mechanical keyboards. It is the first mechanical keyboard I got, and before that the first (and only) mechanical keyboard I had ever used was my cousin’s Adesso MKB-125B. Both the Das and the Adesso use the blue Cherry MX switches. It was through using the Adesso that I first began considering upgrading my typing tool.

Unfortunately, the Das (like the other 2 keyboards I tested) is big, bulky, and generally an eye sore. In fact, of the few other reviews I’ve read about it, the general consensus is: it’s ugly, but it’s great to type on. The clickety-clack quickly makes up for the aesthetic sacrifice by telling everyone within earshot that you are getting some serious work done.

The aesthetics of mechanical keyboards today baffle me. Just because it has mechanical switches, which were especially common from keyboards of the ‘80s and ‘90s, doesn’t mean it should also look like it’s been rescued from 20 years ago.

In addition to being the ugliest of the three mechanical keyboards currently in my office, the typeface used on the key caps of the Das is horrendous. Perhaps the worst offender is the single-quote / double-quote key, which rests just to the left of Return. At a glance, it looks like a period and a single-quote.

The Quote Key on the Das Keyboard

However, the Das Keyboard has two great things going for it. More than the other two keyboards, I prefer the tactile feel of the blue Cherry MX switches and the audio click of the Das. Since you don’t buy a mechanical keyboard for its aesthetics, for those looking to get a clicky keyboard, this is the one I would recommend.

Mapping the Special Function Keys

Though the Das Keyboard for Mac has custom modifier key commands drawn onto its function keys, those special modifier keys aren’t recognized by OS X. The “F14″ and “F15″ keys work to dim and brighten the display (rather than the traditional F1 and F2), but in order to control the previous track, next track, play/pause, and volume up/down/mute you have to press the Function Key which is awkwardly placed under the right-side Shift Key.

Since the System doesn’t recognize the Das Keyboard’s special keys, you can’t tell it to treat F1 like it would on an Apple keyboard without pressing that Function key. For the life of me, I don’t know why this is, but it just is.

Fortunately Keyboard Maestro is a keyboard’s best friend. A little bit of fiddling with the Macros and I was successfully able to map F6 all the way through F11 to act as the blue markings say they should act.

Moreover, since I use Rdio as my tunes source, I hacked together a rather clever if/else macro that allows me to control iTunes if I’m in iTunes, but otherwise to default to controlling Rdio from anywhere else in OS X.

With the Keyboard Maestro hacks in place, you may have trouble using your normal modifier keys on your MacBook Air (assuming you use your Das Keyboard with your laptop in clamshell mode). If so, check out this cool little utility called Function Flip.

Outro

After a month of using and testing the three most popular clicky keyboards for Mac, I am extremely glad I jumped into these waters. The sound and the feel of a clicky keyboard only takes a few days to get used to, and what follows is this intense feeling of productivity that now accompanies anything I type.

Something I like about mechanical keyboards is that each key has its own unique sound and feel. You could tell how many words someone types, and how many in-line typos they fix, simply by listening. Space Bar, Backspace, Return, and the letters — each produce a unique sound and have their own tactile feel. There is variety when typing on a mechanical keyboard. All of these keyboards are just so darn loud that there’s no ambiguity as to if I am typing or not — I know it, Anna knows it, and heck, the neighbors probably know it. When I set out to type a sentence, I am committed — it is like the typing equivalent of writing with ink.

If you too want to adorn your desk with an ugly keyboard — one with a loud personality and which increases typing productivity — then I recommend the Das Keyboard. I prefer both the tactile feel and the sound of the blue Cherry MX switches, and though I find the Das to be the ugliest of the bunch, a serious typist knows you shouldn’t be looking at your keyboard while you’re typing.

Update: See also the review of tenkeless clicky keyboards.


  1. For even more on the difference between membrane, dome, scissor, and mechanical keyboards see this Wikipedia article on keyboard technology.

Chris Bowler’s take on Pocket as an ever-present capture tool, or, as he puts it, an anything bucket that lives on the web:

The issue is that none of the services I’ve seen fit all my requirements. Instapaper is primarily a tool for reading later. Same for Readability. But I come across items on my iOS devices that require another look when I get back to my Mac. Items to archive (whether in Yojimbo, Pinboard or my bucket of choice, Gimme Bar). Designs to explore further. Videos to watch. Technical resources to investigate, then archive. Apps to purchase.

The internet brings me many forms of content, and they do not all require the same action from me. So an anything bucket that lived on the web, with the potential for native interfaces, gets me really excited.

This is the first thing that came to my mind as well. The upside is that Pocket is already quite ubiquitous within apps and services that I use (since of the former popularity of Read it Later). The downside is that everything you toss into Pocket has to be dealt with from Pocket. I’d be interested in finding a way to take my Pocket Inbox and pipe it into my OmniFocus inbox.

As part of the kickoff of the new WIRED Design Blog, Alissa Walker interviewed David Friedman to talk about his inventor portraits.

I love the tagline David wrote for his project: “Necessity is the mother of invention. I want to photograph the rest of the family.”

This week’s episode of The B&B Podcast is filled with more talks of mechanical keyboards, Pocket, and business models. The end of the show ended a bit abruptly due to a family emergency at Ben’s place — but, all is fine now.

As the members who listen to Shawn Today know full well, I’ve been on a war against email the past several weeks. Not a war against email in and of itself, but a war against my poor habits for how I deal with email.

I’ve recently begun a new tactic of only checking email twice a day for 22 minutes at a time. Instead of making a goal for getting my inbox down to zero, I’ve set a goal of only allotting so much time and energy to email. If it can’t make it into my 44 minutes, then it will just have to wait.

(Via Tina Roth Eisenberg.)

There’s two types of people: those that do as much on their own as possible because maybe they struggle with delegation or maybe they simply can’t afford to delegate. And then there are those who try to pass off as much as they can to be free to focus on what they love to do and on what they are best at.

When it comes to business, you have to make money in order to hire others to do those extra jobs. And so, see also John Gruber’s article from 2009, Obsession Times Voice, where he aptly quotes Walt Disney:

We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.

Here’s a Safari extension that, you guessed it, cleans up crufty URLs:

Things being removed include:

  • Google Analytics parameters (utm_source=, utm_medium, etc.)
  • Youtube related parameters (feature=)
  • Partner tracking stuff for NYTimes, Macword, CNN, CBC Canada and The Star

It removes them just one second after the page has been loaded, so those sites that insert all that cruft for analytics purposes still get the data. (Via Michael Schechter.)

Related: How to disable FeedBurner from uglifying your clean URLs.