Input Club’s most ambitious mechanical keyboard project to date, the Keystone, is aptly named. It’s a foundational product, something on which the small company intends to build long-term. (And there’s the obvious “key” pun, so points for that.) Input Club has been intent on making keyboards better for several years now, but for the most part its products have been iterative–a better spring here, a unique layout there, a tool for programming layers over there. But the Keystone represents something far more ambitious. It’s less a one-off product, than a platform. One hesitates to use the term “the last keyboard you’ll ever need,” but that’s essentially the idea.
A jambalaya of input technologies meet in the Keystone: Hall Effect switches, hot-swap switches, analog sensing, adjustable dynamic actuation, and full programmability. Any one of those would be a selling point; taken together, it seems like far too much to promise in a new keyboard, especially from a shop like Input Club that doesn’t have scads of development resources.
But all of those features are related.
Hall Effect enabling analog sensing
It starts with the Hall Effect switches–Input Club’s take on it is called the Silo Beam Switch, which the group made in conjunction with Kaihua — that promise something on the order of a billion-press lifetime. Instead of the typical physical connection of a mechanical switch, Hall Effect switches use magnet and a sensor (that’s a gross oversimplification, so here’s a handy illustration).
Because the Silo Beam Switch inherently reads reads voltage differences in the keypress, you end up with essentially analog data that is extremely granular. That’s clutch, because the other analog sensing technologies out there (Wooting and Aimpad, primarily) rely on IR to detect input. Armed with those granular measurements, Input Club realized they could use that analog data to measure input.
There are two aspects to this analog input: One is that, like other analog sensing technologies, you can put gradations of control into one keypress. The simplest example is that the more you press the W key in a game, the faster your character creeps/walks/jogs/sprints forward. By contrast, typical mechanical switch input is binary, m
eaning if you press W, your character is either moving or not. But the speed and nature of the movement is determined by additional inputs. Secondly, because of the nature of this voltage-based analog input, the actuation point of the switches can be anywhere in the keypress. Topre famously enabled variation actuation with its
switch design but limited users to one of three predefined actuation points. With the Keystone, though, Input club said it uses machine learning (Adaptive Typing AI) to measure your typing, and the keyboard will intelligently determine the optimal actuation point for you. In that sense, it’s not just variable actuation, but dynamic and customizable variable actuation.
There are three Silo Beam Switches available: linear (Red Slider), quiet tactile (Tan Slider), and clicky (Blue Slider).
Hardware to last
Input Club doesn’t think of the Keystone as a keyboard, but as a platform that you can continuously update and upgrade over time. Its marketing tag line is something about how the Keystone will make all other keyboards obsolete; that’s a bit dramatic, but the company’s goal is absolutely to make the Keystone keyboard platform one that is itself never obsolete.
The keyboard itself is a PCB and case that are as future-proof as possible, and you can play with third-party case designs, too. And the defaut design is conservative enough that it shouldn’t ever fall out of fashion. You can opt for a full-size Keystone or a TKL model.
The switches are hot-swappable, so you can upgrade them over time as you desire–maybe if there’s a Silo Beam Switch 2.0, or you move from linear to tactile, etc.. But the current Silo Beam Switch is designed to have a lifespan that will outlive all of humanity, so they should technically never need to be replaced.
It’s also worth noting that the Silo Beam Switch has a Cherry MX-compatible cross stem, so even the keycaps are easily replaceable if you need or want to swap them out. There’s an option already for doubleshot PBT shine-through keycaps.
The other crucial part of the longevity of the Keystone keyboard platform is constant firmware updates so that programmability and stability is always as fresh as possible.
Full programmability of every key is necessary, but Input Club has a vision to take that notion to the next level. Their goal is to create and enable keymaps to all manner of applications. It’s a page out of the Cooler Master/Aimpad playbook: allow users to create custom configurations for specific applications, like PhotoShop or CAD drawings. When you marry that flexibility with analog controls, you suddenly get functionality that didn’t exist before, for the professional tools that you use every day.
Indeed, professionals, more than gamers, are Keystone’s intended audience. Although analog is perfect for gaming, the vast majority of users spend more time at work than at play, and they need great tools to do their jobs. That’s what Keystone wants to be.
Input Club just launched a Kickstarter for the Keystone to get it into full production. The TKL version is just $150, which is a bit shocking given the amount of new tech involved. The full-size version is $179. Both prices may nudge higher by $20 or so after the Kickstarter concludes.
Input Club is taking on a huge challenge with the Keystone. But if they can deliver on the promise of Hall Effect switches, analog sensing, intelligent variable actuation, and longevity, the Keystone is going to be quite an achievement. Especially at $150.