Almost every personal computer I’ve owned throughout the years has included “function keys” on the keyboard. According to Wikipedia:
“A function key is a key on a computer or terminal keyboard which can be programmed so as to cause an operating system command interpreter or application program to perform certain actions.”
From my Commodore 64 and Amiga’s, every desktop and every laptop I’ve owned there have been the familiar site of that row of keys. Even my MacBook has them, although they try to hide but…. The function key has always been there through the history of the PC.
Smartphones and their on screen keyboard have made us very familiar with a reduced selection of keys. Windows 8 makes touch devices with no physical keyboard attached are enabled for typing through an on screen keyboard which has a reduced number of keys and modes that you can switch between to access additional characters, such as numbers. Missing from the on screen keyboards are the function keys.
One of the most talked about elements of the recent Microsoft Surface unveiling has been the keyboard cover, providing a physical keyboard for the tablets. If you look closely at the top row of keys… you’ll see something different from the majority of keyboards attached to PC’s today…
Those familiar F1-F12 function keys are gone, replaced by keys for volume, search, and web.
Is this the end of the function key? As developer write Windows 8 applications, they can no longer rely on the existence of the “F-Keys” for user interactions. Will other keyboards follow along? Do we care? What will be the next key to go? Will the Post-PC era also be the Post-F-Key era?
[Parting side note: Second to only the “Not enough memory to eject disk”error on early Mac’s, by favorite BIOS boot error of all time is “No keyboard detected: Press F1 to continue”]