Apple Wireless Keyboard Review and the Big Control Key

Apple Wireless Keyboard - fn key to control key

It’s been over a week with my new Apple Wireless Keyboard, and the experience up until now has been a mixed bag.

First off, the positives. The design of the keyboard is remarkable; I love how it’s so thin and small. Since I have three monitors — two hooked up to my tower and the other being my laptop — I find myself able to reposition the keyboard much more easily than with the corded keyboard, whose cable always seemed to get in the way of other things on my desk. The key action is pretty good as well for the main alphanumeric keys.

My single biggest peeve with the wireless keyboard is the position of the fn key. Like on their laptops, Apple has placed the fn key to the left of the control key on the left-hand side of the keyboard. Adding another modifier key results in the control and option key being smaller than their counterparts on the corded aluminum keyboard. I tend to use the control key a lot during development. Because the position and size of the control key is so different, I’ve been making a lot of mistakes.

In the Keyboard and Mouse preferences pane, you can change what the caps lock, control, option, and command keys do. I had the idea to turn the caps lock key into control, which is similar to the keyboard layout on old Sun workstations I used in college. However, Apple has modified the caps lock key to reduce accidental activation. If you set caps lock to control, you really have to press the key hard in order for the control modifier key to register. So, that trick was not going to work for me.

Update 2008-04-12: In the recent firmware updates for the Apple wireless and wired keyboards, a remapped Caps Lock key no longer has the activation delay. This means you can now safely remap your Control key to the Caps Lock key.

I did some more research and found apps that modified keyboard layouts such as Ukelele, fKeys, and uControl, but none of them panned out. Finally, I came across DoubleCommand, which provides a wide range of control for mapping one modifier key to the other. Unfortunately, the current version, 1.6.6b1, didn’t have the option to remap the right option key to fn. Because the application is Open Source, however, I recompiled the app with that option enabled. Sadly, in the Keyboard Viewer palette (System Preferences->International->Input Menu), the right-option key looks like it’s masquerading as the fn key, but pressing fn-return doesn’t output the enter key. Hopefully, a newer release of DoubleCommand will fix this issue.

Still, the biggest boon is getting the fn key to act as a second control key. To solve the problem of the space between the fn and control keys, I first tried taking a stickie, cutting it to size, and placing it on top of the keys. It didn’t look pretty, so I got back to work. I printed a sheet of labels with control written on each label (using the Myriad Pro font). I then cut a business card which would provide a firmer backing for the label. I then stuck the label and backing to the key using some tape. The end result looks much more natural — a big control key on the Apple Wireless Keyboard!

Of course, in an ideal world, I wouldn’t have to do this. Apple should provide a wireless version of their aluminum corded keyboard. If they kept the form factor of this keyboard, however, they could improve the design by moving the fn key to the right option key. Expanding the arrow keys to full-size would also be greatly appreciated, even if it meant making the keyboard a little longer or wider.

Check out the photos below!

4 Comments

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  1. hahaha! that is too funny.

  2. I just map my caps lock key to control — got used to that a long time ago when I learned C on Sun boxes.

  3. Scott – I tried this, but I had trouble adapting to the modified caps lock key of the wireless keyboard:

    http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=306811

  4. In the recent firmware updates for the Apple wireless and wired keyboards, a remapped Caps Lock key no longer has the activation delay. This means you can now safely remap your Control key to the Caps Lock key.

    http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/apple/firmware_hardware/aluminumkeyboardfirmwareupdate10.html

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