Typing on a Das Keyboard is a lot like typing on any other computer keyboard — except the keys are blank. Most people, especially those who rely on the slow but steady hunt-and-peck technique, might consider that a problem.
Not Daniel Guermeur, chief executive of Austin-based Metadot Corp. The self-proclaimed "uber geek" says he first came up with the idea for a blank keyboard while attending Stanford University in 1989. It was there that the French native noticed others typing much faster than he was.
"I was an OK typist but I was slowing down when I looked at the special characters," said Guermeur, 41. "One day I said, 'If I could just improve my typing I could be much more efficient.'"
Two years ago, he built a prototype to test his hypothesis that a blank keyboard would force him to become a better typist. After many people asked him where he bought it, he decided to start making them commercially.
And recently, Guermeur began selling the keyboards for $80 with a new marketing spin: "Das Keyboard. Uber Geeks only."
For those needing a foreign language primer, "das" means "the" in German, and the name has to do with the fact that it's intended for "uber" (roughly translated to "super" in German) computer pros.
"People willing to buy this are total geeks," says Guermeur, a former tech manager for oil field services company Schlumberger Ltd. "The creme of the geeks."
The black, enhanced USB keyboard has 104 keys — all of them blank — in a wedge-shaped design reminiscent of the fabled IBM Model M, a keyboard with spring-loaded, clicking keys considered by some to be the greatest keyboard ever built.
As a reporter, my fingers are pretty much glued to the keyboard anyway, so I figured using Das Keyboard for a week would be a minor adjustment.
It is indeed comfortable to use, with five different key weights designed to keep the fingers nimble. The space bar, for example, requires slightly more effort to press than a quick tap of the "c" key.
I've found I don't look down at the keys as much as I thought I would. Yet I still keep a normal keyboard nearby. (Apparently I need more practice before I reach uber status. Certain keys still give me occasional problems, among them the apostrophe, the colon and the squiggly bracket.
My office colleagues remain largely unconvinced.
The conversation usually goes something like this: I say, "Hey fellow worker, look at this new keyboard I'm testing out."
They look down and the expanse of empty black squares, shrivel their nose and ask incredulously, "Why?"
I tell them by using it, I'm showing how cool and smart I am. Then they walk away, shaking their heads (whether it's in humor, befuddlement or jealousy, I can't really tell).
I left Das Keyboard connected to an office PC shared with others. (It's compatible with Windows, Mac OS X and Linux operating systems.)
Sure enough, the next day Das Keyboard had been unplugged in favor of a standard keyboard.
A popular observation: Wouldn't it be cheaper to buy a normal keyboard and either strip off the markings or give it a quick coat of spray paint?
"You could do it," Guermeur concedes, "but it's a pain in the butt to do that, a major pain. Also the paint would wear off eventually."
It might seem a gimmick, but Guermeur maintains Das Keyboard is an invention rooted in logic.
"If you look at a piano, it doesn't have notes on the keys, it's blank," he says. "Writing letters seems like a good help but actually it's not. It's counterintuitive, actually."