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Keyboard industry data



This page contains data about the keyboard industry, including market share, as reported in newspapers and magazines.

New York Times, March 1981

Technology: The Membrane Keyboard – The New York Times

Industry size: $100–$200 million annually (US)
New technology: Full travel membrane

The keyboard industry in the United States is estimated to bring in $100–$200 million annual sales, from at least 75 manufacturers, using “six main technologies and several minor ones”. In November 2021 figures, this is around $300–$600 million.

Metal-contact keyboards are considered inexpensive but with a tendency to wear out, with membrane keyboards expected to offer good reliability at low cost, around $20–30 per unit ($62–$95 in November 2021) compared to up to and perhaps beyond $100 per unit for the more expensive types, although quite which types they had in mind are not named.

At the time of writing, membrane keyboards were considered a newly-introduced idea, whereas the idea dates back over ten years at that point. The article names Chomerics and Oak Switch Systems as the two innovators of membrane keyboards. Chomerics full-travel keyboards are never encountered, while Oak’s Full-Travel Membrane system proved to be successful.

The article also makes a mention of the DIN ergonomic standards: “In Europe it is becoming standard that the so-called home row of keys should be no more than 1.2 inches above the top of the table.” (1.2 inches is 30.48 mm; the official limit was 30 mm, so the figure quoted in the article will have been rounded up from the US equivalent at 1.18 inches.)

New York Times, November 1983

Business Day: Advanced Input’s I.B.M. Coup – The New York Times

Market leader: Key Tronic
New technology: Full travel conductive rubber

The focus of this article is on Advanced Input Devices and the then-forthcoming IBM PCjr keyboard. Advanced Input Devices’ sales for 1982 were given as under $4 million, while their prediction for 1983 was $15 million, and over $30 million for 1984. Their production rate was given as 5,000 keyboards per day, claimed to put them in the position of the second-largest keyboard producer in the world behind Key Tronic; Advanced Input Devices founder John Overby was predicting that his business would be in top position by 1990.

Market information is also provided on other manufacturers of the day. Key Tronic’s sales for 1982 were $80.5 million. The market share for the north-east Illinois “canyon” companies—Micro Switch in Freeport, Corton in Elmhurst and Cherry in Waukegan—as 20 percent to Micro Switch, approximately 10 percent to Cortron and an estimated 8 percent to Cherry. The article then noted that “Their keyboards tend to rely on an older mechanical switch technology.” The word “their” could potentially refer to Cherry—listed last—because it is certainly not true of the other two companies for whom their contactless keyboards were still popular. If not, then there either the journalist misunderstood these two companies’ product ranges, or Cortron in particular were selling far more of their mechanical keyboards than expected, as thus far nobody has ever encounted a single one. Micro Switch are not believed to have still been producing mechanical keyboards even into the 1970s, although there is no data to indicate when they went out of production, only that none have ever been discovered.

Figures are given for how much a “typewriter-quality” keyboard would have cost IBM at the time. IBM reportedly offered only $15–$20 per unit. By comparison, Key Tronic were willing to produce them at $25–$30 each, and General Instrument quoted $18 or $19 each; they themselves reported that IBM were offering only $10–$15.

Electronics Purchasing, October 1985

Technology transforms keyboard market: Here’s what’s ahead for buyers — Purchasing

Market leader: Key Tronic
Market share growth: Full travel conductive rubber

The article, by Robert M Faletra in the Electronics Purchasing section of Purchasing magazine, volume 99 no. 7, 10th October 1985 (pp. 114A14–A15), includes two pie charts depicting the market share of the various keyboard types on the market, as it stands in 1985 and as it was predicted to be in five years’ time. The research was conducted by Venture Development Corp. of Natick, Massachusetts. At the time of writing, they were projecting annual growth of 20% in conductive rubber keyboards, but saw only 5% growth in capacitive keyboards.

Keyboard technology Market share
1985 1990 (prediction)
Capacitance 43.8% 26.6% (down 39%)
Mechanical 18% 26.8% (up 48%)
Membrane 11.8% 16% (up 36%)
Conductive rubber 8.5% 14.7% (up 73%)
Other 17.9% 14.7%

The terminology here was not clearly defined, in particular what is meant by “membrane”. Comments such as “more to it then putting ink on a piece of mylar” [sic] and “full-travel and membrane keyboards” suggest that “membrane” here refers to flat surface keyboards such the RCA VP-600 series and that of the Sinclair ZX80.

The article in general points to not just the rising popularity of conductive rubber (rubber sheet) keyboards, but to their inevitability, with foreign competition cited as one of the reasons that US manufacturers were turning towards this technology, including Maxi-Switch. At the time, conductive rubber keyboards were reported to offer a 10% cost reduction over mechanical keyboards and 20% reduction over capacitive keyboards, according to Advanced Input Devices’ John Overby. Overby cites the advantage of their sealed nature with his comment that you could “pour Coke on it all day and it wouldn’t leak through”. At the time, it was generally understood that rubber sheet keyboards used conductive-pad domes, as seen in Advanced Input Devices and (later) BTC keyboards; in the article, the term “conductive rubber” is used rather than the more general “rubber dome” or “rubber sheet”. A cryptic comment from Harry Stern, president of Conductive Rubber Technology of California mentions membranes but does not clearly indicate the specific arrangement of the keys: “Stern says conductive rubber is also used with membrane-type switches to give a tactile breakaway feel.” Membranes don’t move enough to operate a rubber dome, yet membrane sensing does not require the domes to be conductive.

The full-travel keyboard market globally was given as $400 million, with Key Tronic given as the leader.