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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Challenge Ursa is a contemporary keycap profile for Topre boards

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Hear, I don’t need to be the man who all the time posts about bizarre keyboard stuff. I’ve different pursuits. However I want to inform the handfuls of Verge readers with Topre keyboards about these keycaps. Ursa is a new spherical doubleshot keycap profile for Topre that’s accessible for group purchase till Might fifteenth.

Reactions to the earlier sentence will probably fall into three camps:

  1. I acknowledge a few of these phrases
  2. Already smashed that checkout button
  3. A keycap group purchase? In 2024? In a brand new profile? For Topre boards? What might go flawed?

I’m normally a bunch three, however immediately, I’m in group two. If you happen to’re in group one, here’s what a few of these phrases imply. Topre keyboards, just like the Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional, use completely different switches than customary mechanical keyboards. They use little rubber domes with a quick, top-heavy tactile really feel that you could’t actually get wherever else (I’ve tried).

However Topre is a tiny slice of the large mechanical keyboard market. Not like customary MX-style mechanical keyboards — the place keyboard, change, and keycap choices every quantity within the 1000’s — there are solely a handful of Topre boards on the market and a really small variety of methods to customise them.

Along with the HHKB, Topre switches are additionally present in Realforce keyboards and some Leopold boards, like my beloved FC660C. With a number of exceptions, they don’t work with common MX-style keycaps, and pickings are slim.

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There are the inventory keycaps, that are superb dye-sub PBT however solely are available in a number of colour choices. There are a few extremely expensive high-profile keycaps from discontinued keyboards and a few janky aftermarket units. Most individuals who need to change out the keycaps on their Topre boards find yourself placing in MX-compatible sliders.

(If you’re questioning why folks would spend a whole lot of {dollars} on a keyboard that’s excellent proper out of the field after which spend a bunch extra money altering every little thing about it, all of us have mind worms.)

So, again to Ursa. The Ursa profile was developed by designer Andreas Chlupka and manufactured by FKCaps. I’ve been following its growth for a couple of years now, as a result of I’m a creature who likes fairly keycaps. And these are fairly, with good sculpted spherical tops and centered legends. They’re the primary doubleshot PBT keycaps accessible for Topre boards that I’m conscious of.

The Ursa keycaps are available in basic grey and off-white, black with white legends (with elective pink or blue modifier keys), and a Minitel 1-inspired retro brown, inexperienced, and cream. $80 will get you a set that may cowl an HHKB or an FC660C; it’ll price $120 to cowl a full-sized Realforce. If you happen to don’t want legends (the half that tells you what key it’s), a full set of blanks in both black or basic will price $60.

They’re estimated to ship in Q1 2025, which looks as if a great distance away however is comparatively quick in keycap group purchase land.

These Ursa prototypes are 3D-printed. The manufacturing variations can have the identical form however solely English legends to start out.
Photograph: Andreas Chlupka

What might go flawed?

Loads of issues might go flawed! The FKCaps group appears pretty clear-eyed about the challenges. Essentially the most rapid is that in the event that they don’t get sufficient orders to pay for the double-shot tooling, they’ll’t make the keycaps and the group purchase shall be canceled. Personally, I don’t want this final result.

Then there may be the group purchase mannequin itself, which is widespread in fanatic communities however does require paying for a product nicely earlier than it’s really made and trusting the seller to pay the producer, the producer to make the factor and get it to the seller, and the seller to ship it to you. Many a bunch purchase has foundered at a type of phases!

Simon Tarchichi, co-founder of FKCaps, informed me by way of e mail, “We perceive the circumstances usually are not good for a bunch purchase, and we actually would have performed it otherwise if we might. That being mentioned, we’ve got expertise in producing new keycap profiles, that is our fifth enterprise (after MBK, HEX, MNT Pocket and SLK) and although this one is extra advanced as a result of they’re doubleshot, we wouldn’t be gathering buyer’s cash if we weren’t 100% assured within the final result.”

The subsequent problem, in fact, is definitely making the keycaps. Proper now, except for 3D-printed prototypes, FKCaps only has single-shot keycap samples from their manufacturer, and a number of the stems are crooked. It is a widespread drawback with aftermarket Topre caps just like the KBDfans set I’m utilizing proper now. PBT is a difficult materials to work with, with a lot of shrinkage, so it might take a number of tries to get the stems straight and the legends proper, which is why FKCaps inbuilt 5 months to create and refine the tooling. Tarchichi informed me that the producer is similar one which makes their different keycaps and that it has expertise making doubleshot PBT caps, which is reassuring.

I’m not going to inform you to purchase these keycaps. Group buys are risky, and manufacturing is difficult — FKCaps solely resorted to a bunch purchase after it couldn’t discover an investor to entrance the cash for what’s, in spite of everything, an extremely area of interest product. And no one wants to spend this type of cash on keycaps for an already costly keyboard.

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