The vertical keyboard represents quite a change from the traditional computer keyboard. Although the letters remain in the QWERTY arrangement, the keyboard is split into two halves that are perpendicular to the base of the board. This means that typing on the vertical keyboard means the thumbs are upward instead of in horizontal position.
The hands are also at the sides of the body, instead of in front, which is thought to eliminate shoulder strain. The arms are essentially at shoulder-width apart. The forearms also face each other instead of facing down as on a regular keyboard.
An early vertical keyboard was tested by Cornell University in 1999 to address the ergonomic issues of the standard keyboard. Since most typing means the hands must remain at an ergonomically challenged position, the vertical keyboard was thought to be a solution for typists who might be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome due to long bouts of typing.
The early tests were promising, and marketing of the vertical keyboard began in 2003. Those who have used the vertical keyboard do describe their first use as somewhat awkward as compared to use of a normal keyboard. As well, the vertical keyboard will significantly challenge those using hunt and peck typing. One cannot see the keys.
Sometimes a vertical keyboard is sold with side mirrors to help new typists. These often have to be purchased separately, and do pose some issues as they show a mirror image of the keys, which many find confusing. Those who are already good touch typists show the most aptitude for learning the new methods of vertical typing.
The Cornell tests showed that skilled touch typists had some slowing in typing speed, but felt that extended use would likely increase typing speed. Typists who have used the vertical keyboard also report that it is difficult at first to type letters with the pinky fingers as these are closest to the base or table on which the board sits.
From an ergonomic standpoint, claims about the vertical keyboard have been shown to be quite true. The vertical keyboard offers far better positioning and does reduce carpal tunnel. Using a vertical board might allow some workers to return to typing even if they have carpal tunnel syndrome already. However, some dislike the new arrangement, and the vertical board tends to require more space than does the normal keyboard. As well, the monitor must be positioned higher, since the vertical board is so much taller.
Several companies now make this interesting new keyboard, and pricing varies. One can find them for slightly less than 200 US dollars (USD), and prices tend to top out at the 500-600 USD range. Since some do not care for the vertical keyboard, it is possible to find them used. A used board might be a safer investment for a first time user. Some companies now also offer a vertical mouse along with the keyboard, which can help keep the hands positioned thumbs up throughout most computer applications.