Alps Alpine/Alps Electric
Alps Alpine Co., Ltd., formerly the Alps Electric Co. Ltd. (Japanese, アルプス電気株式会社) is a Japanese electronics manufacturer that was formerly one of the leading keyboard manufacturers in the world. The best-known Alps keyboards are the Dell Model 101 (family AT101-102) and the Apple Extended Keyboard and Extended Keyboard II. However, the list of keyboards that they manufactured is extensive, and they may have devised a greater range of switch series than any other keyboard manufacturer in the world.
At the behest of Apple, Mike Muller of Datanetics founded the Keyboard Company as a dedicated supplier to Apple. Apple later bought out the Keyboard Company, which became their Accessory Products Division (APD). When Apple decided to abandon this in-house production, the APD factories in Garden Grove in the US and Millstreet in Ireland were sold to Alps Electric. The Garden Grove facility was sold to Alps in late 1985 for a figure estimated at the time to be in the range of $5 million; this purchase gave Alps its first US manufacturing facility, becoming part of Alps Electric (USA) Inc. (An article in Computerworld, 2nd September 1985 indicates that the sale took place at the end of August that year.) While Apple also left Millstreet in 1985, Alps did not take over the Ireland factory at the same time. Alps Electric (Ireland) Limited was founded in 1988, using the old Apple factory, and in 2018 Alps celebrated its 30th Anniversary in Millstreet.
On the 1st of January 2019, Alps Electric and Alpine Electronics merged to form Alps Alpine.
Alps are known to have formed at least two joint ventures relevant to the keyboard industry:
- Forward Electronics in Taiwan
- Gold Star Alps in Korea
- Elastic contact types, including:
AKC2C and AKC2N were depicted in JEE in 1978 and 1979, and outwardly resemble KCC. No clues were offered as to what series these might have become at the start of the 80s.
AKC8 does not appear to be a keyboard switch, but the implementation if ever discovered may offer some interesting insights.
The K series (circa 1979–1985) contained both the switches and keyboard assemblies. e.g. Series KFL contained both KFL switches and keyboards made with these switches. From around 1985, switches and keyboards were split out into pairs of series: SK for keyboards and KF for full keyboards.
The following keyboard series are confirmed from catalogues, product labels etc. The list below also includes those series where the switches could not be sold separately. Not every SK switch type is known to have had a corresponding KF full-size keyboard type.
- AKB keyboards with AKC and (S)KCC switches
- AKM modular keypads (details unclear)
- KFCC keyboards with SKCC switches
- KFCL and KFCM keyboards, with SKCL and SKCM switches
- KFCP keyboards, with SKCP switches
- KFCR keyboards with (presumably) SKCR switches
- KFFF keyboards with (presumably) SKFF switches
- KFFL keyboards with SKFL switches
- KFFM keyboards with (presumably) SKFM switches
- KFER keyboards with SKER switches
- KFEW keyboards with SKEW switches
- KFPA keyboards with SKPA switches
- KKC capacitive keyboards, also KFKC
- Membrane types, including:
Somewhere along the line, the term “switchplate” was introduced within the keyboard community as a way to refer to the contact assembly of KCC, KCL and KCM switches. In the Alps 1993 Keyboard Switches/Tact Switches catalogue, the various parts of an SKCM switch are named as follows (verbatim):
|リーフスプリング（接点押圧用）||Leaf spring (for contact)|
|コンタクトサブアッシ||Contact sub assy|
|リーフスプリング（感触用）||Leaf spring (for feeling)|
Here, Alps uses the term “stem” for “plunger”, and “contact sub assy” (contact sub-assembly) for the contact assembly/module. For the most part the Japanese terms are katakana transliterations of English loanwords. Note that the contact sub-assembly and its actuator leaf spring are treated as separate components. This may be in part because there are switches where a different type of actuator spring is used, in particular the over-centre pressing in SKCP/SKCR, and the hysteresis sliding spring in SCK.