Since the invention of the typewriter, not much has changed in the design approach to keyboards. But if it’s up to hardware startup Naya, the way we use our keyboards could soon be a thing of the past. They will officially announce Naya during CES Las Vegas this January, where they will also receive the CES Innovation Award. Co-founders Niclas Bertelsen and Moritz Angermann sat down with us for a sneak peek, discussing future plans and why hardware is hard.
Technology has changed nearly every aspect of our lives and the world around us. But how we interact with technology is not always as seamless as we think. Arc’s mission is simple, yet highly ambitious: to reshape the way people interact with technology. “If you can’t change the market, then why do it?”, Moritz explains. “And if you’re not doing something fundamentally different from what everyone else is already doing, there’s no real reason to change something. For us, it starts with thinking about why things are made the way they are. And that’s when you realize many of the design choices are completely arbitrary and sometimes don’t make sense at all.”
A different approach
The three founders met at the University of Groningen. “We shared a passion for technology and entrepreneurship”, Niclas says. “Moritz was studying Artificial Intelligence at the time and felt the way we use technology is sometimes downright impractical. Rather than complain about it, he taught himself how to use CAD and he had a 3D printer at home and a head full of product ideas. And the three of us built a business around it.”
One of these ideas became their first product: the Arc Pulse. It’s an elegant, minimally designed phone case that protects an iPhone in all the right places, without making it feel bulky or heavy or look like every other phone out there. True to the phone’s design, keeping both its look and feel. And things took off from there. Arc landed its first investment and the company grew rapidly. But early this year, they decided it was time for something completely new: a modular keyboard.
A brief history of typing
The thing is, keyboards haven’t changed all that much over the years. “The way the keys are spaced, how the lettering is organized, the size of the keys, there’s no real logic behind it”, Moritz explains. “Or at least, not anymore. When the typewriter was invented, there were hammers under each key and they had to be spaced away from each other. So spacing, how letters are ordered, tilt shift, it was all designed in a way to make sure these hammers wouldn’t beat against one another. But we don’t use these hammers anymore, and yet, the design choices have never changed.”
“So the fundamental design of a keyboard no longer makes any sense. And we’re all paying the price for it”, Moritz continues. “RSI, strains, cramps and other injuries in arms, neck and shoulders are now far exceeding anything we’ve seen. And especially our generation, working with computers every day, is going to pay a heavy price. But the fix is really obvious and studies on how to solve this even predate computer technology.”
Naya’s solution is Naya Create: a modular, split keyboard. “It’s all about ergonomics”, Moritz says. “Our hands shouldn’t be resting flat on a table when we’re typing. They should actually be slightly tilted outwards. And by splitting the keyboard, you’re no longer forced to hunch over the keys. You can sit straight and upright while typing. These ergonomic keyboards are not new, by the way. In fact, they were some of the best-selling keyboards in history. But using them just feels slower and there’s a learning curve. It can be pretty rough, especially in the beginning. So we wanted to combine ergonomics with existing efficiency tools and hardware, to get the best of both worlds.”
“Just look at how often you switch between your mouse and keyboard, for example”, Moritz continues. “You open a tab, you type one word. Then you click on something, type something, and so on. It’s completely ridiculous! So by integrating a mouse into our keyboard, we can completely eliminate the need to constantly switch between the two. And there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution, so that’s why our keyboard is modular and you can tweak and change things to fit your specific workflow and also makes it easier to use if you’re left-handed.”
Hardware is hard
Naya started work on its keyboard in March of this year. The prototype is now ready, patents are filed and the startup is all set to officially present Naya at CES Las Vegas in less than a month from now. “It’s super fast when you think about it!” Niclas laughs. “But this was actually just the easy part because hardware is hard. We went to Slush in Helsinki in November and probably 90% of all the startup founders and investors there deal with software. We met a couple of interesting industry insiders specializing in hardware and talked about all the challenges.”
It’s really hard to get your foot in the door as a hardware startup”, Niclas continues. “You need to have a really specific niche because large companies already have all the funds and production means to easily outcompete you. But we also talked about how rewarding it is when things do actually work out. So we’re really excited about going to CES and show off the physical product for the first time. And of course we’re incredibly honored to have won the Innovation Award. We’ll also be going to San Francisco afterward, to meet with Silicon Valley founders and investors. We’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign in March and hopefully, we can start production later next year. Plenty of awesome things to look forward to!”
Check out Naya’s brand-new website here.
Arc is also looking for a Junior Software Engineer to join them. Check out the opening here.