I've written up the questions for you though anyway. At the end, I also did a writeup.
No idea. Neither of the two guys I talked to, Troy or Don, have a strong recollection about that, other than they admit its superiority. Troy says that the real Trackpoint modules can be purchased from Lenovo and retrofitted.How come they only use force-sensitive resistors based pointing sticks instead of strain gauge-based ones like TrackPoints? - SharktasticA
Was there any particular reason why On-The-Point (M13), On-The-Ball Plus (M13/M5-2 hybrid) and Mighty Mouse (M4/M4-1) series of keyboards were retired? It seems like they might be popular in this day and age, especially the Mighty Mouse if marketed as a cheaper and more tactile alternative to Topre (for example). - SharktasticA
No real reason for any but the Mighty Mouse. The Mighty Mouse was only released because a particular client of theirs asked them to recreate it, and they did, and then the client backed out at the last minute, so they had to sell the keyboards they had in production.
Have they considered taking up a project like Ellipse's Model F Labs in house? - SharktasticA
It has been talked about and shot down immediately. Unicomp wants to be known for fair prices and cheap, for what they are, keyboards. They are not interested in the premium sector at this time.
Whilst not a question, if you could, let them know that if they ever need assistance with anything, here is a good place to start. We are a largely constructive and helpful community, and we could help them in some ways. Whether it would be simple suggestions for products to how they could market their products to enthusiasts better (since they seem to focus on OEM'ing Model Ms to other companies like GE as a business model). At the end of the day, this engagement costs the hourly wage of someone for a short while, and in return, they get more trust from and integration with the community, they can specifically find out what ideas would and wouldn't work (especially since most ideas have been tried as people's pet projects anyway), and of course more sales. - SharktasticA
They have noted trends started by us, and appreciate our guides and help. While they, up until today, weren't familiar with the subreddit in particular, they knew a few of us as regular shoppers and value us, so we're good. They asked me advice from a consumer standpoint as well, though that's not their main moneymaker.
Indeed, while I looked at the shop floor, almost all the work was being done on some Models M we may recognize. They had a yellow numpad. That's GE Medical, and when I commented on it, they said they don't talk about who their customers are, but was surprised I had recognized the keycaps. I can confirm that at least on the day I was there, the vast majority of their operation was taken up with OEMing Models M for other companies. They also said that flat out.
I do have questions, but am afraid others may have asked in the past (e.g., media keys especially a roller for volume adjustment). -justinstyles
Volume roller: never even thought of it. Troy may or may not look into it.
Do they plan on being able to offer a complete set of black buttons? (Currently, or at least last I knew, they weren't able to provide the right shift key in black) - interista4jz
It's being discussed, but the higher ups think the cost is prohibitive. The idea is that the keys are completely custom, so they have to make a minimum order from a company that injection molds them, and with the keyboard key companies being more and more in demand with Cherry stems, they are increasing their minimum order. I was told that something as small as 10,000 keys (per individual key, so that's 10,000 right shifts) was laughably small. They don't see a huge commercial demand for black keys, and since that's their main business, they haven't bothered sinking that much dough in it. They are constantly talking about it and considering it, however.
If the black button set is going to be offered in full, are there plans to offer it with white legends? - interista4jz
Yes, but that's less likely than black unprinted.
Ask them for the price of a 122-key keyset, I need one but it's not on the website - hax0rz_
$30. Order a custom keyset.
I'd like to know if they have any post-Lexmark old inventory, like Bigfoots, M50s or SSKs. - hax0rz_
They do, but it's been largely gotten rid of, and is only available for repairs, like with [Shark's case.](https://i.redd.it/r7e7h1gr5u851.jpg)
When are the SSKs coming out? - CharlieBrown197
Literally as soon as the PCBs come from China. It's totally excellent. I typed on one and held one, though it was very engineering sampley. Troy claimed that their facility is so quick on turnaround, and I can see how, that it's going to be a joke to make *just as soon as they get the parts.* So I'm looking forward to it.
Can they improve their website? Really it is confusing, lacking pictures. I've heard of the "new Modem M", but when I go to the website it doesn't stand out what/where it is. - happycamp2000
Unofficially, they hate the website more than you do, but it works and migrating off of the website would be too big of a pain in the ass.
Ask Don what HIS favorite keyboard is AND does he use/appreciate any other manufacturer or switch? Or is he indifferent to keyboards entirely because it's a job... Not a hobby. - drake9800
Cagey, but claimed to have no interest in keyboards. Troy, later, said that that's a bit of a misleading comment since he is probably one of the foremost experts in keyboard technology in the past 20 years.
Why no white model in SSK? - Jeb_Ozuwara
Nobody buys pearl. Troy is as surprised as we are. He says the orders for pearl are low enough that at this point they haven't even bothered. Same reason they don't have pearl cases for the Ultra Classic. Crazy!
I don't have any questions, just cant wait to hear all about the tour man. Hope you take lots of pictures. Keep an eye out for my life savings, it's in there somewhere... - masshole2303
I was not allowed to take photos. . The tour was neat though. It's an incredibly small operation. The tour was like literally 10 yards and then that was it. I saw the dye sub machine, the testing machines, the repair and assembly facilities, and some programming machines with DELL RUBBER DOMES HOOKED UP TO THE COMPUTERS.
Will they retool their keycaps? IBM ones provide much better keyfeel. - brainandforce
Only partially. As they notice glaring issues, they fix them, but since their main customers are primarily concerned with "is it legible and does it type?" they don't see a huge value in spending another million dollars for a very small increase in keyfeel for the uber enthusiasts. That's not to say they don't care, they have made huge steps, as we know, in increasing the key quality over the years for us, but they, at this point, are not prepared to heavily invest in something that is basically good enough.
But, after the New Model M and Mini M, who knows?
Retool plans, and, can they figure out a modular system so we can get custom layouts. - mdj9hkn
Retool: basically none until the new keyboards are out.
Custom layouts: they can do custom layouts in a very rudimentary way, but not like weird ergonomic shit. You can make whatever key do whatever you want, just put it in the order.
New keyboards? What new keyboards? - mdj9hkn
The Mini M. The New Model M is out, but the Mini M is still in production.
The Mini M has 10 key rollover though. That's kind of neat. EDIT: that seems high. Maybe it was 6. It was definitely at least 6, but I remember him saying 10, but the memory could be bad.
Have they ever considered making a Model M with backlighting? - Tigarion
I went back today and asked. Troy said they are considering it, and they have figured out how to do it cheaply, but they haven't been able to do it well.
They have a few prototype transparent barrel plates, and they have experimented with membranes with LEDs basically glued onto them, but it opens up a lot of issues they haven't solved well yet.
The membrane sandwich is one of them. They can put the LEDs in there, but the fact that we're squishing a membrane, which is surprisingly finnicky, and then putting another lump of stuff on it can cause air pockets and issues. There's also power delivery. It's kind of hard to deliver that power to the LEDs through the membrane how they have it now. A membrane a la very old vintage keyboards, where each key gets its own little line would kill two birds with one stone there, in that each key would get enough power to power an LED and they would improve the rollover, but they'd need a giant PCB with a connector the entire length of the board. I have seen this, but I bet Unicomp doesn't like it.
But yes, they are actively developing backlighting, but slowly. They haven't worked the kinks out and there's more important stuff going on at the moment.
Ask them if they can consider doing a lavender themed keycap set like the unicomp logo please! - gleylancer
Here's a writeup of my trip.
I'm not going to go into the circumstances of me going to Unicomp, but I'll just say that I did and it was a planned visit. The Q&A was not planned, however.
Anyway, I start driving to their address, and about a mile away, I'm in residential streets. A neighbourhood. There's a school. Kids riding bikes. Then suddenly, there's a small industrial looking building in the neighbourhood that looks overgrown and abandoned. It has a Unicomp sign on it that looks like it was put there in the 1970s and left.
I park. There's nobody there.
I walk up to the front door. A yellowed paper sign is pasted to it. I feared the worst, that maybe they moved locations years ago and nobody told me. As I walked up to the sign, it was clear that that wasn't it. It just was no longer the entrance for some reason. The sign told me to go around.
I went around. There were no signs or anything, but there were a bunch of unmarked doors, and some cars, so at least this was active. I walked in some random door and Troy was right there and recognized me.
In his office was something that stopped me in my tracks, a Model F XT in an Industrial case. We've seen this over the years (https://clickykeyboards.com/product/198 ... 83-key-xt/) and everyone has been really confused by them. They are all some fake stuff, people say. Not so! Unicomp had one! Troy found one and thought he hit the keyboard lotto, but it was the same crap everyone else had, and it's essentially unusable, but it does confirm that it was an official IBM product, but outsourced.
We walked onto the floor, which was surprisingly tiny. They share a warehouse with another company, but it's fairly small. They have keyboard testing machines which smash buttons. They have pivot plate assembly things that are amazing and almost entirely mechanical, like clockwork. Timing and tolerances are manually adjusted, and they're 40 years old. Each machine, according to Troy, is worth a million dollars, and they're finnicky. A pivot plate goes on there and moves in a circle to a few different positions where a different thing is done to it and tested, with defect bins spitting out bad pivot plates.
Past the pivot plate thingies they have the oven which does the dye sublimation. I saw a gigantic pile of GE keycaps being made. See the GE Medical Systems keyboards here: https://clickykeyboards.com/product/200 ... diac-cath/. The same keys are being made today. When I asked Troy, he said that they don't disclose their customers, and I understand that. On the other hand, that's such a wholly unique colourway that it's clear that GE is still buying new keyboards from Unicomp! Awesome.
The oven is also finnicky, and things as basic as the humidity and ambient temperature can screw up the dye sublimation process, so they have to constantly adjust it to get the right balance of keeping the printing legible and good.
In regards to that, actually, they have started to care more as they saw a boom in individual sales. The majority of their customers are big companies getting many many keyboards made. This was told to me by Troy and Don, and I could see for myself. There were many fewer of our keyboards than there were some they were OEMing for people, like the presumed GE keyboards.
As we have seen, a few years ago Unicomp reached a nadir in quality of the keycaps. This genuinely doesn't matter for most purposes. If you're using the keyboard for a point of sale terminal or whatever, nobody cares if the writing's a little fuzzy or slightly misaligned. They just care if it's legible, and rationally so. Only with this boom in individual sales recently have they had to really improve the quality control on the printing, and it is, as I was told, a bit testy because of that.
They also have a rivet welder, where they get all the pieces of the keyboard together and it presses them together in just the right way to ensure everything works right, then heats and flattens the plastic rivets.
I told them about Drake's rivet welding method (https://i.imgur.com/yWypBIa.jpg) of which they had never heard and in which they were interested.
I started asking a bunch of dumb questions from the Model M subreddit, Q&A here: https://www.reddit.com/r/modelm/comment ... post_some/
Don came up, and he's back from the old IBM days. He told me all about the history of the company, most of which we know and have been told many times before. Blah blah IBM sold to Lexmark, Lexmark couldn't find a buyer so made a deal with employees, blah blah. What I didn't know was that by the time Unicomp was starting, a lot of the tooling had been destroyed, and they had to travel all over the world to a ton of different IBM plants to get machines and parts to actually make these keyboards. It wasn't as simple as just grabbing some machines from down the street! Some of the Unicomp things might have been from the Mexico plant, or Maxi Switch, or Greenock, or who knows where! Amazing.
Keeping the machines up and running has been difficult too. Even if the machines themselves are fine, other things still can affect it that you might not imagine. Troy told me a story about one of their air compressors which powers a pneumatic machine being broken and getting replaced. Everything seemed peachy keen but they noticed that the quality was a little off. They couldn't seem to get it fixed, nothing was working. They eventually figured out that the new air compressor was putting a slightly higher quantity of oil into the air, so they had to fit oil filters into the air compressor to get the air back to what the machines were used to. That's the kind of stuff they have to figure out. They're retrofitting a bunch of stuff onto these old machines to make them work, and it's totally boss. It's like cyberpunk stuff guys, I'm telling you.
I was told that most of their wicked old stuff has been sold or used for repairs by now, so we can't expect to see many more bigfoots sold on Black Friday, but they do have some weird things that are cool, and they're keeping them a secret. You see, Troy, one of the customer guys who answers the phone and our support tickets, is one of us. Yes, he's a Redditor and custom builds ergonomic keyboards, and I believe he had a Deskthority key on his custom build ergonomic keyboard with flappy paddles. http://troyfletcher.net/. That guy gets us. He's our rep in the Unicomp biz. As long as that guy works there, I think Unicomp is hearing us, even if they're not hearing us, specifically.
But that means that he knows what we're going to eat up and what he needs to hide from us. That's me reading between the lines there. But, for example, Shark's new Model M with the big two step feet he needed a new case for, that shit ain't going out wide. They need those for repairs and they know that we insane people will just buy them and sit on them. He also let me know that as soon as Shark posted it, he started getting calls about those cases from people. There have been a few other things that we've inadvertantly started as well.
Near the entrance to the floor is a bunch of programming stations where they can customize the keyboards to do whatever we want, which is neato. You may be wondering what keyboards Unicomp uses. Beamsprings? Models F? Models M? Focus 5001s? Custom Tofu board with Zealiostotles and SA 1980s keys? No. Bog standard Dell rubber domes. Holy smokes. I did notice that one of the products they were playing around with was the new Mini M, their version of the SSK.
I asked about it and Troy said he'd let me play with the prototype in his office. Well I did and it feels great. Even though the prototype was very engineering sampley, with a not quite final looking detachable USB thing in there and no numpad overlay, and, I was told no logic board, it looked awesome. It's very much a small New Model M, except the cutout on the bottom has a use. I asked Troy about the cutout on the New Model M, and he said it has a purpose, but wouldn't say more than that. The Mini M has 10 key rollover for you gamerz out there too. EDIT: see previous edit on rollover. Could be 6 and I might be misremembering, but still it's high enough so nobody will reasonably be affected.
Anyway, I typed on the SSK on my lap. It felt like an SSK, which is high praise. The SSK feels like a big keyboard even though it's small, which to me is its big appeal. The new one feels like that too, and it's solid. I thought the New Model M was a solid feeling keyboard, on par with Lexmarks of old. This one feels really good. No creaking or anything, just a really solid board. I think everyone is going to be really happy with the build quality on that one. It feels as good as real SSKs! No more paying $300 for them on eBay! Just get a new one! Unfortunately, it's only going to be offered in black in the immediate future. The keys they're doing are like the New Model M, brilliant white and grey. Looks really good IMO. It would just look better in black.
So when are they coming out, right? Well apparently, the delay has been on the PCBs from China. They're just getting more and more delayed. Troy indicated to me they can put them out for sale literally as soon as the PCBs arrive. He said "we're really good at getting keyboards out the door. Maybe too good."
"What do you mean?"
"Well sometimes a customer will have a keyboard he ordered, want to make a change an hour later and we have to tell him 'sorry, but we already shipped it.'"
I actually experienced this. More on that later.
I talked with Troy about the mechanicalkeyboards subreddit, and custom keyboards and what he builds and how I'm too lazy to do anything. I gave him a couple of Kailh Box Pinks to use on his hand paddles to keep the dust out of them. His work keyboard is literally a PCB on a jar opener with some switches and paddles. It's really cool.
Eventually, I went back to the hotel and I thought about something Troy said to me about the fact that all the new keyboards are black. They just aren't getting the sales of the pearl cases, something especially true of the Ultra Classic. Some of you may have noticed that recently, the Ultra Classic has been coming with a black case back. Black cases are the future, apparently. Troy said that the pearl ultra classic is a beautiful keyboard, but is so vanishingly rare that when he sees one on the production floor, he stops to look at it. Well, I happen to agree. So I sent in an order at 4 AM the next morning, put in a customization fee, and asked for a pearl back, if they still had any left. They did, mostly for repairs, but were willing to do a one off for me.
Then I got a call from Troy. "We're out of pearl spacebars. The shipment didn't come in. Strange thing to be out of, but it's true."
"Well can you make it a 103 key?"
"Let me get back to you."
He got back to me at around 10 AM, and said it would be ready by noon as a 103 key.
I popped over there, asked him a few more questions from the subreddit, and left with my new keyboard!
I am typing this on my Unicomp Ultra Classic, custom made today. See photo.
Now that's cool. Unicomp is good people!
TL;DR: New SSK feels as solid as Lexmark SSK, will release as soon as they get the PCBs, Troy is a custom keyboard builder and understands us, and they can turn around a custom order in like an hour. I originally typed this on a keyboard made the very same day.