October 4, 2019 | 11:34
Microsoft has confirmed rumours that it is looking to bring back its iconic Natural Keyboard, now known as the Ergonomic Keyboard, in a modernised, sleek black form - complete with the option of a dedicated 'emoji key'
First launched in 1994 and featuring the market's first dedicated Windows key to bring up the shiny new Start Menu in Windows 95, Microsoft's Natural Keyboard was a Ziba Design creation manufactured by Key Tronic. Unlike most keyboards of the era, the Natural took a split format approach which separated the keys in the rough centre and rotated them while providing a tilt designed to allow the wrists to rest at a more natural angle during typing - hence the name - and thus improve the keyboard's ergonomics. Its low cost compared to rival designs ensured its success, with three million units sold by the time it was replaced by the Natural Keyboard Elite in 1998. The latter shuffled the Home cluster and cursor keys around, and proved somewhat less popular - though was also the first to come in a non-beige colour scheme, thanks to a white-text on black-plastic variant.
1999 saw the release of the Natural Keyboard Pro and a return to the traditional Home and cursor layout plus the addition of a USB hub and dedicated media shortcut keys; in 2002 the Natural Multimedia Keyboard launched with a return to the custom Home layout, and the range got its first wireless variant. The Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 and 7000 followed in 2005 and 2007 respectively, then Microsoft appeared to abandon the design until the release of the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard in 2013 saw the Natural moniker dropped. Another hiatus followed before the last entry in the range, the Surface Ergonomic Keyboard, launched in 2016 as an accessory to the Surface Studio all-in-one PC.
Now, the Natural family is going back to its roots with the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard, a low-cost design directly inspired by the Natural Keyboard family and featuring a wired USB connection with few bells and whistles.
Looking exactly as you'd expect for a modernised version of the Microsoft Natural Keyboard, the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard follows the same split layout and wrist-easing curve. The company appears to have finally learned its lesson about the custom cursor and Home layouts, too, while a series of small shortcut keys appear along the top - including three which can be assigned to launch a user's favourite program, multimedia keys, and shortcuts to common Windows features. Microsoft has also added an interesting feature not previously found on its Natural and Ergonomic ranges: The ability to reassign the Application key to launch an Emoji input mode.
Available exclusively in black - sad news for anyone hoping for a return to classic 1990s beige accessories - the keyboard includes tilt adjustment, a padded wrist rest, a wired USB 2.0 connection to the host PC, and weighs just over 1kg. Microsoft has confirmed that the keyboard is designed for Windows 10, and will have limited functionality on earlier releases - the Office and Emoji keys will be unavailable. Customisation, meanwhile, is performed through the company's Mouse and Keyboard Centre software bundle.
UK pricing and availability for the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard have yet to be confirmed, with US customers able to pre-order the keyboard now from the company's US store for $59.99 (around £48 exc. VAT) with an October 15th delivery date.
April 3 2020 | 14:09