Professor Eiiti Wada lays the foundation for the legendary HHKB
As a UNIX developer, entering UNIX commands was second nature to Mr. Wada. However, as the diversification of personal computers rose in the 1990's, keyboard layouts kept changing. Mr. Wada grew tired of having to relearn new layouts each time he used a new machine. The new models also came with many new keys that had little or no use for professional developers and typists.
In 1992, Mr. Wada published a paper titled "Great Interest in the Keyboard Layout" to draw attention to this problem, and presented the idea of "My Keyboard" featuring his ideal keyboard layout. He spent the next three years prototyping and developing this perfect keyboard concept into a prototype.
Designing the prototype
Mr. Wada completed his first prototype In 1995. Named the "Aleph Keyboard," the cardboard model was based on an ASCII layout, but with optimized key arrangements to make it easier for professionals to type. Unnecessary keys were removed from the layout and the overall design was configured into the smallest, most compact size possible. This early prototype was the earliest iteration of the "Happy Hacking Keyboard" – otherwise known as HHKB.
Development of the first HHKB begins
In May 1995, Mr. Wada met with our engineering team, and he introduced them to his "Aleph keyboard" cardboard model. We were very impressed, and set up a development team to create a small number of models that would be available to the public.
As the product development team worked on the new model, they knew it had to feature the innovative key layout, and ensure it had an optimal stroke depth, to live up to Mr. Wada’s vision. They also needed to keep it small and light enough to be carried around, while also maintaining strength and durability.
In order to realize these goals, the team began a rigorous trial and error process with Mr. Wada. During this testing several more improvements were made, such as placing the CTRL key left of the A, putting the ESC key left of the 1, and omitting the 10-keys while adding a FN key.
In the fall of 1996, one and a half years after the start of development, the final prototype for the first HHKB was completed. It was a compact keyboard, measuring only 294 x 110 mm—almost half the size of a sheet of A4 paper.
Released December, 1996: HHKB model KB01
A small first run of HHKBs
In the winter of 1996, the first HHKB model "KB01" was released in a run of 500 units. Although this quantity was far away from any considerable “commercial base”, Mr. Wada and PFU both felt like they were at the cusp of a new era in professional keyboards.
When Mr. Wada received the very first commercially available HHKB, he said this to the engineers who made it:
“Cowboys in the western United States leave their horses when they die. But never leave their saddles, regardless of how long they need to walk in the desert. Saddles are interfaces that are deeply adapted to our bodies whereas horses are consumable items. It should not be forgotten that computers are consumables nowadays, but keyboards are interfaces that we can use through our lives.”
The product name "Happy Hacking" was created to show that when it’s easy, fast and comfortable to type, you can get more enjoyment when programming.
Released November, 1997: HHKB model KB02
The first HHKB model, designed to be a keyboard for a very limited number of professionals, sold out in a blink of an eye. Stories about this new, “ultimate” keyboard spread quickly amongst the community through word-of-mouth and the Internet. We soon realized we had to scale production quickly to meet the rising demand.
In 1997 we released a new HHKB, the KB02, which was compatible with Mac OS and featured a DIP switch on the back for providing customizable keyboard layouts.
Released June, 1999: HHKB Lite
In June of 1999, we released a new model, the "Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite." This compact size keyboard came with the UNIX key layout, specially designed with the PC/LINUX and power user in mind. The price was reduced in half by eliminating the original version's multi-platform feature, supporting only the most highly demanded PS/2 interface.
Released March, 2001: HHKB Lite 2
In March of 2001, we innovated the Lite version again, developing the Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite 2. Built to offer more flexible functionality to the traditionally stripped down HHKB design, this keyboard featured an inverted "T" layout for arrow keys and an extra FN key on the bottom row on the far left.
Released April, 2003: HHKB Professional
We continued to innovate, and in May 2003 released the new "HHKB Professional." which featured the game-changing "capacitive non-contact" key switches, developed by Topre.
Most keyboards use a “membrane method," where switches press down and contact the electrode terminals to register an input. The capacitive non-contact method works by pushing down on a conical spring, so the switches register inputs without making contact by changing the capacitance value of the electric charge. This new method was imperative in achieving an optimal key touch, and ideal for high-end keyboards because without contacts chattering does not occur and keywear is minimal.
HHKB Professionals had a key press pressure of 45g, providing a light and refreshing touch that allowed users to type for long periods of time without needing to rest. In addition, the design of "cylindrical step sculpture"—where all key tops slant toward the center of the keyboard—also added to the easy typing experience.
An "Unmarked model" for a select audience
To create a keyboard for the ultimate typists, we released an "unmarked model" without printed characters on the key tops. The ongoing popularity of this feature highlights the sense of pride many people have for their typing proficiency.
Released March, 2006: HHKB Professional 2
In early 2006, we introduced the HHKB Professional 2. It had all of the same great features as the HHKB Professional 1, but also included an upgraded Topre chip and a USB 2.0 compatible HUB with two ports in the back, making it a flexible interface for all types of computers and peripherals.
Released October, 2006: HHKB Professional HG
To celebrate our 10 year anniversary, we set out to create the "Ultimate HHKB." The result was the HHKB Professional HG. Its frame was machined from aluminum, so it would never bend or break. Additional craftsmanship was concentrated on the keys, to improve upon the well-established key touch of the "HHKB Professional". It even had a customizable step to adjust the height between 8 positions, allowing users to find their perfect angle.
Turning the "Ultimate HHKB" into a legend
As a tribute to the endearing design and quality of HHKB, we wanted to take keyboards to a place they had never been before. The beautiful, unprecedented "HHKB Professional HG JAPAN" 10th anniversary model featured unmarked, hand lacquered keys, in the traditional Wajima-nuri style in Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture. Each key on this working piece of art was hand-coated with lacquer ten times.
Not only beautiful, lacquer is an incredibly functional coating agent because of its extremely high antibacterial properties, excellent hygroscopicity, low heat transfer, and high durability. They were the ultimate keys, for the ultimate keyboard!
Released June, 2011: HHKB Professional 2 Type-S
In 2011 we released the "HHKB Professional 2 Type-S.” By reworking the internal design of the switches, we reduced almost all of the keystroke noise created while typing. We also adjusted the keystroke from the conventional 4.0 mm to 3.8 mm, and tightened the engagement of the drive unit, making even higher typing speeds possible, with less damage.
Released April, 2016: HHKB Professional BT
Released in April 2016, the "HHKB Professional BT" was our first wireless model, enabling users to cut the cord. Compatible with Bluetooth V3.0, it was equipped with functions that could be used not only on personal computers but also on various devices such as tablets and smartphones. It was a long-awaited and welcomed model for users who wanted to use their HHKB anytime, anywhere.
In October 2019 - HHKB received the Good Design Long Life Design Award
In October 2019, HHKB received the "2019 Good Design Long Life Design Award," given only to a product or service that has been widely supported and trusted by users and consumers, and that can serve as a model for design and continue to be standard over time. HHKB was the first PC peripheral to ever receive this award.
Released December, 2019: HHKB Professional HYBRID and HHKB Professional HYBRID Type-S
In December 2019, we released our current flagship models; the HHKB Professional HYBRID, and the silent version the HYBRID Type-S. These models both included the new Bluetooth capability developed in the BT model, and the HHKB Professional HYBRID Type-S shared the same key structure as the HHKB Professional Type-S.
The HHKB HYBRID had a new connectivity feature, allowing users to connect up to 4 devices simultaneously, and easily switch between all of them. It also included a keymap change tool that allowed professionals to customize their ideal key mapping.
Released December, 2019: HHKB Professional Classic
At the same time we introduced the HHKB HYBRID models, we also released the HHKB classic. This legendary model is almost identical to the HHKB prototype from 1996, with a wired connection and minimalist layout.
Released November, 2021: HHKB Professional HYBRID Type-S Snow
December 2021 marks 25 years of innovation and excellence in keyboards. To celebrate, we have released a special, limited edition model—the HHKB Professional HYBRID Type-S Snow. We’re honored and grateful to our amazing HHKB owners around the world, and we’ll continue our pursuit of offering our users compact, durable, fast, comfortable and compatible keyboards. We hope you’ll continue with us on our journey, and thank you for celebrating 25 amazing years with us. Happy Hacking!