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Alphameric

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History

Alphameric was a British specialist keyboard manufacturer, whose product range included the retail and military sectors. The majority of Alphameric keyboards discovered are foam-pad matrix-scanned capacitive. Over time, the Alphameric name has been used by a variety of related companies; even the name Alphameric Keyboards Ltd was used by at least two separate companies.

Realtime Developments Ltd (company number 01192925) was founded on the 6th of December 1971, changing to Real Time Developments Ltd two years later. As of July 1989 it was Alphameric Systems Ltd, until April 1998 when it became Alphameric Keyboards Ltd. This information in itself contradicts the labels found within older keyboards, where “A.K.L.” is written on the product labels.

Separately, Alphameric Keyboards Ltd (company number 01044892) was founded on the 6th of March 1972. This would change to Alphameric Solutions Ltd in March 1996, Alphameric Online Computer Services Ltd in June 2002, and finally Torex Retail Online Computer Services Ltd in February 2005, before closing down in February 2010. The name Alphameric Solutions Ltd appears on a General Dynamics keyboard from circa 1999.

The name Alphameric Solutions was also used by Alphaserv Ltd (company number 02730742), founded on the 13th of July 1992 and taking on subsequent names of Alphameric Broadcast Solutions Ltd (March 1996), Alphameric Red Onion Ltd (November 2000), Alphameric Leisure Ltd (June 2004), Alphameric Solutions Ltd (March 2007) and finally OpenBet Retail Ltd as of June 2010, following a sellout to OpenBet. This Alphameric Solutions is not contemporary with the one listed in the . Lowmarch Ltd (founded on the 17th of August 1981), Online Computer Services Ltd a year later, was also Alphameric Solutions Ltd from June 2002 to March 2007, the month that the name passed to the previously mentioned business.

Alphameric in the UK had a French subsidiary, Alphameric SA. The name Alphanumeric Holdings Limited appears in a single patent (US 3797630, filed in 1971).

The keyboard business of Alphameric was acquired by Devlin Electronics in 2004, another British specialist keyboard manufacturer. Curiously, the following news item was printed in Systems House in August 1992:

Benjamin steers Alphameric out of trouble

On the surface, latest results from Alphameric for the year to 31st Mar. 92 are not encouraging. Revenue was just £5.1m compared with £13.4m last year - due to the disposal of dealing room systems operation FTT Alphameric to BT (for £1.65m rather than the £1.85m originally reported) and the disposal/closure of various other activities. Loss comparisons are also difficult. At the operating level a £1.7m loss was the same as last year but the loss per share has reduced from 58.9p to 28.8p.

When Alan Benjamin took the helm the losses were £11.6m and it would have been a brave (or foolish) man who would even offer odds on survival. Two successful (for the company) or unsuccessful (for the underwriters who were left with most of the shares) rights issue later, Alphameric has no borrowings and Benjamin is "confident that we shall become profitable during the coming year, as we originally forecast". Benjamin has built a strong and well respected management team headed by CEO Rodney Homstein and now strengthened by David Evans "who built up Devlin Electronics from nothing". Source - MicroScope 8th July 92.

The item refers to some of the financial problems that troubled Alphameric, and mentions Devlin at a point in time long before latter acquired the former.

Switches

Tall foam pad capacitive

Only known from a single keyboard made in 1980, this is a very tall telescopic-plunger design, where the thick foam pad is external to the body of the switch. US patent 3797630 “Keyboard for electronic circuit” depicts a very similar design, and most likely covers the keyboard type discovered. Alphameric advertised the “Great British Keyboard” in computing magazines in the UK from December 1978 to mid-1979; the poor scan quality obscures the details, but it appears to also depict the same design.

The “Great British Keyboard” advertisement also claims that Alphameric had the world’s first MOS capacitive keyboard encoder, available “five years ago” (circa 1973).

DIN foam pad capacitive

This is the switch design most commonly associated with Alphameric. It is a foam pad capacitive design very similar to that of Key Tronic. Seen as early as 1982, this appears to be their DIN-compliant design. The plunger is normally natural (unpigmented) but the RM Nimbus PC-186 keyboard used beige plungers, and Alphameric model E124QPC-AF has at least one plunger that is white or cream pigmented.

The plunger guide shaft modules have different cross sections, for reasons as of yet unknown.

Rubber dome capacitive

Presently there are no photographs of this available, and is known just from a single General Dynamics keyboard. One would presume that inside each rubber dome is sufficient conductive material as to be detected capacitively, as with Brother’s “proto-Topre” keyboards with a metallic disc inside each dome. (Topre themselves used a conical spring.)

Keyboards

Internal serial numbers appear to use a single range across all keyboards, but external serial numbers may not. Presently, the internal and external serial numbers are treated as a single range (with keyboards with no visible date sorted accordingly), but this is quite likely to be wrong. Should more examples surface, un-dated entries may be able to be removed, leaving only entries with reliable date information.

Keyboard Type Switch Date Serial Notes Reference
Unknown 116K Tall foam pad capacitive 7.80 17529 YouTube
Unknown DIN foam pad capacitive ca. 1982 102194 sowen.com
Unknown ca. 1983 115722 sowen.com
Alphameric E124QPC-AF DIN foam pad capacitive 307636 eBay
Unspecified commercial 140-1595 DIN foam pad capacitive 27/86 317757 Deskthority
Reuters DK3000 DIN foam pad capacitive 339913 Yoycart
RM Nimbus PC-186 keyboard DIN foam pad capacitive ca. 1987 374434 Beige plungers thenimbus.co.uk
I.G.E. Medical Systems 46-272264P1 140 367P DIN foam pad capacitive 1091 (internal)
July 91 (external)
617778 (internal)
105950RE0 (external)
Some foam pads have a central hole for an LED Flickr
Lynwood 140 3671 DIN foam pad capacitive 1191 618710 Imgur
General Dynamics military keyboard 140-7610 Rubber dome capacitive? 004021 021? ca. 1999 Made by Alphameric Solutions; switch type is not depicted Imgur

Documentation