On keyboard threads there have been expressions of interest for unorthodox formats. I am a fan of columnar staggered designs, and of these I think the best one to choose would be the Atreus. I would make my case for its consideration as follows:
The footprint of the Atreus is small enough to fit within the space allocated for the keyboard on a standard laptop. Many columnar stagger designs (Ergodox, Keyboardio 01) have thumb clusters or arcs that would impinge on the trackpad.
The Atreus is already commercially successful and marketed by Keyboardio, Falbatech and Profet. An Atreus equipped laptop would appeal to an established user base.
For laptop application, the two halves of the Atreus can utilise the full width of the laptop giving the benefit of a wider typing stance. Perhaps the gap thus created between the two halves could house an arrow cluster?
The Atreus has spawned larger variants which may suit bigger laptops (discussed below).
Thus far we have been referring to the smaller 42/44 key format. This would in my view be ideal for the 13.5" Framework. There have however been requests on this forum for 15" or larger Framework laptops in the future. Perhaps larger variants of the Atreus would suit the bigger laptops, such as the Atreus58 and Atreus62 (the 62 also being commercially available from both Profet and Falbatech)? These models extend the smaller form factor with extra rows or columns, which could be left unassigned by users who prefer the minimal layout.
I know from searching the forum there are others who are using columnar staggered keyboards of various types. There are many different types and they all have their adherents, so I have tried to make the case for the Atreus being both the most practical and widely acceptable option. Could all of us live with the Atreus if that were what was offered?
I hope I have made a compelling case and look forward to hearing what others think. Whilst other designs are sure to be worth consideration, I would prefer to focus on columnar staggered options here. Adherents of other categories such as ortholinear (grid-style such as the Planck) will hopefully also attempt to pitch their favoured options in specific threads. If more keyboard options emerge, so much the better!
To find out just how many keys could be fitted onto a laptop, I drew out a rough plan. The key pitch on the paper is 19mm, exactly the same as on all three laptops that I had to hand (MacBook Air 13", Dell E5470 14", Thinkpad E480 14").
I tend to carry my HHKB with me. I imagine the machining costs for a niche layout with low volume of manufacture would make it cost-prohibitive - probably about as much as building an Atreus.
Build one with choc switches if the layout is important and you want a low profile. I’m all for alternate layouts (I would love a proper HHKB layout, split space, etc. etc. on my Framework), but I can’t imagine justifying the additional cost for a limited-run top case.
I disagree it is fair to compare the choice to carry a HHKB (that’s Happy Hacker Keyboard for readers who are not keyboard anoraks!) with that of an Atreus. The HHKB is - at the risk of causing offence - merely a flavour of the traditional ANSI layout, whereas the Atreus belongs to a totally different family. You are therefore able to use the keyboard on any notebook computer withe few difficulties. I accept the position of some of the modifiers is different on the HHKB compared to traditional layouts. But every laptop features a reduced layout so anyone coming from a desktop setup will have to adapt a little anyway. No laptop keyboard is going to match the feel of the full travel switches on your HHKB, which I suspect has as much to do with why you chose to carry one.
As for the potential market, I reckon that an Atreus laptop will appeal to anyone using any of the split columnar staggered arrangements. This includes Ergodox and its descendants, Maltron, Kinesis Advantage, Corne / Helidox, Iris, Moonlander etc. Together, this must be a non-trivial and - thus far - effectively captive market. Keyboardio for example have themselves marketed the Atreus as a portable companion to their flagship split board.
This. Why bother with a laptop if you choose to carry another keyboard for all but the most trivial tasks. One may as well use a tablet and dispense with the unsatisfactory built-in keyboard.
Talking of unsatisfactory keyboards, here is my 12" MacBook showing how the atreus fits within the keyboard footprint. The 13.5" Framework would allow the two halves to be spread wider, enhancing the ergonomics still further.
@David_Eastham I do tend to forget the love split board users have for their layouts (I do have an Ergodox, I just never really meshed with it).
I’m under no delusion that the HHKB is a cut-down ANSI board - no offense taken. And you’re right - I’m used to the key travel and the layout which is why I carry it with me (oh what I’d give for a split backspace on a laptop).
It’s serendipitous that we’re having this conversation now - somebody on the Thinkpad subreddit has done it and posted today:
No frame around the keys themselves, and it’s not an Atreus layout, but the idea seems to work and it’s an awesome proof of concept for what you’re looking for.
Yikes! The columns diverge away from the user rather than converge as with Atreus; I can only conclude it must be an ergonomic nightmare. (something also picked up by various users on the linked forum). I suppose it does add weight to the theory there is an appetite for split columnar keyboards on laptops, and the ready availability of a commercial model may spare us from home-brew monstrosities like that linked.
My initial thought was one of horror: I like using the keyboard but regret am not some sort of keyboard ninja who knows enough shortcuts never to use the mouse, or a command line addict. I am a current mac user who very much like my GUIs and point-and-clicking. Thus keyboards with thumb clusters (Ergodox etc) or thumb “arcs” (Keyboardio etc) are out, as far as laptops are concerned.
Then I thought it might be acceptable if touchscreen were available instead, although they never really took off. Or perhaps I could live with one of those dinky little joystick things that old Thinkpads used to have.
Whilst those options may be less convenient than a trackpad, users could always carry a wireless mouse. This reverses the current situation of many unorthodox keyboard users who choose to carry their favoured keyboard with their portable setup, but of course it is less severe in this case because a mouse is smaller than a keyboard. And a mouse is a generic item readily to hand in any clerical environment.
At the end of the day, the reason I agitated for an Atreus is because it would seemingly fit into the classical laptop form factor with touchpad and all.
This is perhaps the biggest challenge for implementation of an Atreus, as there is a greater likelihood that the user of unorthodox keyboard configurations also adopt obscure layouts. Without a relatively easy way to programme key actions the Atreus would be dead in the water, as it relies on layers.
There is already a discussion of QMK-esque functionality within the framework keyboard here.
The GergoPlex is very similar to my daily driver, the Falbatech Minidox. I agree with you insofar as I greatly prefer typing on it to the Atreus, which is newer and thus less familiar. I run RSTHD layout, and submitted a keycap to the QMK repository. My proudest feature is a “virtual inner column” on each half made from combos of the adjacent inboard keys. I subsequently switched from Oneshot shift to space invader shift/parentheses, and the layout works really well for me.
However I think the Atreus is a more pragmatic choice for a laptop because it fits the classic arrangement of a trackpad in front better, and most people are probably not ready to manage on a mere 36 keys in total. If we want an unorthodox keyboard configuration I think it is important to avoid a “Peoples front of Judea” situation developing amongst advocates for different but similar ergonomic keyboard projects where we become unable to agree whose design should be implemented.
In my view the Atreus has the most going for it: it is commercially successful and the right shape for existing laptops, with just enough keys for most people.
This is a really great idea, and, I think, deserves some serious consideration. The standard QWERTY staggered layout is really a technological debt that has yet to be resolved, for no other reason than convention. The stagger was originally made for typewriters, and has no place on a computer keyboard. Thus, rethinking the design of a laptop keyboard, I think, is long overdue.
The Atreus is an excellent design: it fixes the staggered key problem with ordinary layouts, adds columnar stagger to account for the shape of human hands, and adds in thumb keys where it makes sense. It’s practically a perfect keyboard. I would LOVE to see this as an available Framework keyboard.