Chiclet Keyboard

apple keyboard

A chiclet keyboard or island-style keyboard is a computer keyboard built with an array of small, flat rectangular or lozenge-shaped rubber or plastic keys that look like erasers or ‘Chiclets,’ a brand of chewing gum manufactured in the shape of small squares with rounded corners. Most often the tops of the keys are hard, but sometimes they were made of the same material as the rubber dome itself. For example, the keys on Sinclair ZX Spectrum computers were ‘rubber dome key’ which were sometimes described as ‘dead flesh,’ while the American version of the Timex Sinclair 2068 was described as having ‘chiclet keys.’

Chiclet keyboards are characterized by having each key surrounded (and held in place) by a perforated plate, so there is a space between the keys.

Since the mid-1980s, chiclet keyboards have been mainly restricted to lower-end electronics, such as small handheld calculators, cheap PDAs and many remote controls. The term has also been used more recently to describe several popular low-profile, low-travel keyboards. These keyboards have small, flat, squarish keys that are separated from each other by some space on the baseplate they protrude from – a feature common to the old chiclet keyboards. They are not chiclets in the earlier sense, however, as they do not use a rubber membrane or directly molded hard key tops as the keys themselves and instead use a more modern technology.

In a Chicklet keyboard, a keypress is registered when the top layer is forced through a hole to touch the bottom layer. For every key, the conductive traces on the bottom layer are normally separated by a non-conductive gap. Electrical current cannot flow between them; the switch is open. However, when pushed down, conductive material on the underside of the top layer bridges the gap between those traces; the switch is closed, current can flow, and a keypress is registered.

Unlike membrane keyboard, where the user presses directly onto the top membrane layer, a Chicklet key requires the user  to provide sufficient pressure to collapse the thin sides of the rubber key. In other designs—such as that seen in the diagram—the deliberate weak point is where the key joins the rest of the sheet. This collapse allows the solid rubber center to move downwards, forcing the top membrane layer against the bottom layer, and completing the circuit.

The sudden collapse of the chiclet keyboard (along with the movement of the key) provides a greater tactile feedback to the user than a simple flat membrane keyboard. The dome switch keyboards used with a large proportion of modern PCs are technically similar to Chiclet keyboards. However, the rubber keys are replaced with rubber domes, and hard plastic keytops rest on top of these. Because the keytops are wider than the rubber domes the keytops are not separated but align almost perfectly with only a minimal gap in between each other.

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