A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about moving to a split keyboard with 42 keys; the Corne. I created a layout for it based on the one I made for my Planck, and it was quite a struggle. The fundamentals of the layout were good, and I’d already acclimatised to an ortholinear (matrix-style, non-staggered) keyboard, but the switch to a split setup was an eye-opener for me. I could immediately see how much I’d been compensating for weak and inflexible pinkie fingers by cheating on good home row position while typing, borrowing fingers from the other hand, and indeed repositioning my hands entirely for chords like keyboard shorcuts. With a split board, you feel the pain of those suboptimal manoeuvres tenfold.
Everyone reading this is already familiar with a tiny, and so called “forty percent” keyboard — your smartphone’s on-screen software keyboard is such a layout, complete with layers for symbols and numbers — but unless you’ve used one physically and for a sustained period, you perhaps won’t know that the challenge is never that you have too few keys. Instead, it’s that the ergonomic hand position that the form factor pushes you into will make you realise that you’d prefer to have as few keys as possible, but that their positions and reachability are critically important. Counterintuitively, it feels much more burdensome to have to move a finger one extra column on a small board than to lift your whole hand to another place on a larger one.
Perhaps you’ve noticed some contortions that you make yourself when typing. Using a different finger to reach up and right to Backspace instead of your short and weak pinkie, perhaps. I certainly noticed my own. Something had to change, so I made a change which may seem more extreme still, but which is actually a huge step of accommodation: I removed four keys from each half of my split keyboard, taking it down to just 34 keys in total.