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Emerson Development LLC

Advances in Computers and Communications

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The conventional keyboard layout is an archaic design that does not meet the needs of modern PC usage patterns

A Better Numeric Keypad,
A Better Keyboard

page 2

There are three steps to designing a revised numeric keypad:

    A) For the current layout, determine what keys are not necessary,
    B) For the new design, select the most important new keys, and
    C) Integrate the new keys with the least disruption to the design that people are used to.

The Unnecessary Keys

On the first version of the PC keyboard the keys of the numeric cluster had double duty as cursor arrow keys, and the NumLock key shifted between those two functions. The next release of the keyboard by IBM moved the numeric keypad to the right to make room for the newly introduced separate cursor cluster. Since that time, approximately 1985, the cursor function of the numeric keypad has been redundant and unused. Accenting this fact, Microsoft dropped the NumLock key and cursor functions on one of their recent keyboards.

There are four more keys that are so unused no one would miss them if they disappeared. They are:

  • Print Screen (carryover from DOS)
  • Scroll Lock (carryover from mainframe terminal)
  • Pause (carryover from mainframe terminal)
  • Insert (carryover from DOS -- toggles text insertion mode with overtype mode)

Basically, the only way most people find out what the Insert key does is to hit it accidentally. If that happens in the middle of a line, they find that their typing works like PacMan, with each new character eating the one to the right. It’s a useless feature.

(We suggest that keyboard manufacturers simply remove these keys, but they could also be relocated to less important real estate on the keyboard, and turned into small buttons instead of typewriter keys.)

The New Keys

There’s no hard and fast rule for selecting these keys. If you look at the two software applications on page 1 of these two pages, you’ll notice that they both had different interpretations of what keys were important. Not only that, but even the manufacturers of hardware desktop calculators don’t agree on what keys are most important. But, there are common threads. The most popular (and useful) appear to be:

    memory keys
    square root
    Grand Total
    clear entry

There are a few other keyboard keys that would be helpful to have embedded in the numeric cluster:

    backspace (delete to the left)
    tab (for moving to the right in tables and spreadsheets)
    shift-tab (our new key for moving to the left in tables and spreadsheets)

Lastly, it would be handy to have a “calculator” key to pop up a desktop calculator emulation software package, and, a Symbol Lock key will permit the numeric keypad keys to serve double duty by also offering desirable symbols that aren’t presently available on the keyboard (e.g., the cent sign, the Euro symbol, the degree symbol, the Registered, Copyright, and Trademark symbols, among others).

Proposed Design

Here’s our view of a design that integrates all the concepts we’ve just discussed.


What just happened here? The most important design decision was to not increase the overall width of the keyboard, and secondarily to not increase the height (depth) of the keyboard if at all possible. You might notice that most keyboards have unused or relatively unused space above the numeric keypad, so growing modestly in that direction will generally be acceptable.

Next, by getting rid of the four legacy keys (Print Screen, Scroll Lock, Pause, and Insert), we opened up space above the cursor cluster. The cursor movement keys (Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down) are sensibly merged into the cursor cluster, along with the Delete key. This keeps the Delete key positioned close to where it is now, and keeps Home and End, and Page Up, and Page Down in logical association with each other.

With these changes, there now is a large vacant space above the cursor cluster, in addition to the already available space above the numeric keypad. And so, we expand the numeric cluster two ways: we add two horizontal rows above the present numeric cluster; and, we extend the numeric cluster to the left, into the vacant space above the cursor cluster.

The placement of the new keys into this new matrix is somewhat arbitrary, but with the basic logic of keeping similar keys together:

    The existing numeric keypad already has arithmetic functions in a row (divide, multiply, minus), and so we added similar keys to the same row (percent, plus/minus, square root).

    Memory keys were kept together.

    Grand Total and Sub-Total are together.

    Shift-Tab, Tab, and Backspace are together.

The particular design that is presented here is not laid out in stone. It is one view of how the patent pending concepts might be realized in a product. We would be happy to work with manufacturers to incorporate their views into a product that will delight consumers.

Software Integration of New Keys

Pop up the Microsoft Calculator, and view Help, Tips and Tricks, and then “Using keyboard equivalents of Calculator functions”. You will see that the Microsoft Calculator incorporates a number of the virtual keys  that we are interested in turning into physical keys. Since the Microsoft Calculator doesn’t have physical key equivalents for the virtual keys, they created a simple mapping to relate keyboard actions to software actions. For example, Memory Plus is activated by Control-P, and plus/minus by F9.

Following this lead, a product implementation can simply extend this table to create mappings for all the new keys. Each new key will then generate the key code for the keyboard operations that correspond to the table (in other words, the new plus/minus key generates the key code for F9).

It should also be possible to create a USB implementation taking advantage of the messaging capabilities of USB.


The net result of the enhanced numeric keypad, and the other innovations described on these pages, is a considerably improved keyboard. The first real re-thinking of keyboard utility in twenty years. It’s time to modernize, thrill your customers, and infuse new excitement and revenue potential into your keyboard products.


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