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Does a keyboard specifically designed for mathematics exist (with all the common symbols and greek letters) ?

Would you buy one and why ?

PS: Feel free to re-tag properly.

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closed as no longer relevant by Felipe Voloch, Henry Cohn, Mark Sapir, Andy Putman, Andres Caicedo Jan 25 '12 at 0:17

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This question should, in my opinion, be community wiki. –  Grétar Amazeen Feb 17 '10 at 19:26
Why did this get down voted twice... Is it considered off topic ? –  Olivier Lalonde Feb 17 '10 at 21:30
@Olivier: You shouldn't take the downvotes personally. If I weren't a moderator, I'd vote to close as off topic since I can't imagine a professional mathematician seriously asking this question. If somebody were to ask something like "what computer should I use (as a mathematician)?" I would close unilaterally. I feel like this is marginally more on topic, but it's still a stretch. –  Anton Geraschenko Feb 17 '10 at 22:08
I didn't take it personally and I am genuinely curious as to why a mathematician wouldn't seriously ask this question. To me, it is akin to saying a serious musician wouldn't ask if there was a keyboard for composing music more efficiently on a computer or a serious graphic artist asking if there was not a better interface for painting on a computer, both of which exist (i.e. drum pads and touch screens). There might be a good reason for not using such math keyboards if they do exist but just for the sake of learning those reasons makes the question worthwhile, IMO. –  Olivier Lalonde Oct 6 '10 at 21:03
There's a related question on the tex.SX site: tex.stackexchange.com/q/1979/86 –  Loop Space Jan 7 '11 at 8:37

16 Answers 16

There used to be a number of specialized keyboards for APL fans - like the Unicomp keyboard, which comes 'closer' than usual keyboards. Or you could always re-program this keyboard to your heart's content!

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I own the blank keyboard, it is actually very very nice. –  B. Bischof Feb 18 '10 at 14:50

I don't know the answer to your first question, but I probably would not buy one, should one exist. (There are programmable keyboards, of course.)

A quick glance at the unicode provision for mathematical symbols (e.g., here) shows that there are too many of them to fit on a standard keyboard with 100-odd keys, even with modifiers.

This is similar, though not perhaps as severe, to the problem of trying to write in Japanese using either kanji or kana on a keyboard. (Same problem in Chinese, of course -- it's just that I've more familiarity with Japanese.) The solution there is not to have a huge keyboard with lots of symbols, but for the software to do the work. All one would need is an input system for mathematics. For me, although I concede it is not optimal, this is TeX. (In fact, TeX is recognised as an input system in Emacs.)

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Addendum: If you use AucTeX (implemented in Emacs), you can define a special key, say @, which converts @a to alpha, @b to beta and so on. Also, using regedit under Windows, you can add features to any key of your keyboard, which might be helpful, because e.g. many keys don't have a defined value for altgr + key. –  J. Fabian Meier Feb 17 '10 at 17:43
I do use AucTeX with math-mode, which has a similar functionality; although a different default prefix (backtick). I'm ashamed to say that I have not spent any time customising it and with some thought this could really be a very efficient input system. However, what I meant in my answer was something slightly different: TeX as an input system, so that if you input, say, <code>\alpha</code> (or @a or...) you would get the glyph for $\alpha$ without a need for TeX compilation. –  José Figueroa-O'Farrill Feb 17 '10 at 17:51
Under windows, the MS Keyboard Layout creator can be used to assign Unicode values to unassigned combinations (like Shift+Alt+a or whatever). I use it to be able to type German umlauts. –  Steve D Feb 17 '10 at 18:12
my Addendum was meat to give extra information to Olivier; I assumed, that you, José, are using AucTeX. Sorry for the confusion. –  J. Fabian Meier Feb 17 '10 at 18:37
@José : at one time in Japan, before the computer became powerful enough to run a Japanese input system behind the main program, people did sell a huge keyboard with lots of Japanese / Chinese characters on. I'm too young to see one in person, but I saw the ad in old computer magazines. –  Yuji Tachikawa Jan 21 '12 at 6:40

If you are using Windows, you can use the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator tool to make your own layout; you will need administrator access to install it, however, and then you will have to switch to it.

Keyboard layout creator at work.

As you noticed, however, no layout can cover the entire range of unicode characters.

What I have done is create an AutoHotKey script like this:


    ;send unicode encoding to clipboard because
    ;that's the only way AHK can encode Unicode.
    Transform, Clipboard, Unicode, %char%
    SendInput ^v

I would share the whole list of bindings I've written, but it really is an inelegant, ugly kludge. However, it might do the trick for you.

If you aren't using Windows, this approach should still be available to you through other software. However, I've already used all of my link allowance. :)

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Don't forget to suspend the script while you are actually using TeX or LaTeX! –  badp Feb 17 '10 at 19:20
Can you use this program to disable the "caps lock" key? I find it is much more trouble than it is worth. –  Jon May 10 '10 at 5:49
@Jon definitely! –  badp Sep 24 '10 at 10:41

Any keyboard is reprogrammable to your heart's content (assuming you're using a decent operating system). When typing a LaTeX document, I reprogram my keyboard so that the backslash is in place of the semi-colon, the numbers and shift-numbers are swapped, and a few other optimisations. I did this because typing LaTeX with an ordinary keyboard was causing me some pain in my fingers and doing this adjustment fixed it.

Something interesting to do is to count occurrences of characters in your documents. For example, in my latest paper, the top four characters are:

13001 t
12385 e
11291 \
11135 o

The total number of numbers used was 766. So making the numbers harder to type doesn't mean too much extra stretching, and putting the backslash somewhere easy to reach saves a lot of effort.

(Added in edit): A little while after this question was asked, the site http://tex.stackexchance.com came into being. A very similar question was asked there and I gave a rather more detailed answer there than I did here. Here's a direct link to my answer there.

(Thanks to Peter for reminding me of this and suggesting I link the two.)

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You could use a French layout, which is pretty close to that :P –  Mariano Suárez-Alvarez Feb 17 '10 at 19:49
More t's than spaces?! (Or are you just listing non-space chars?) Indeed, keyboard remapping is possible on any keyboard. In my answer I was thinking about keyboards such as the one by Art Lebedev with OLEDs on the keys :) artlebedev.com/everything/optimus –  José Figueroa-O'Farrill Feb 17 '10 at 20:51
Really? The French use '! 1' instead of '1 !' (and so on)? I didn't know that. –  Loop Space Feb 17 '10 at 20:52
@Jose: Absolutely correct; my quick-and-dirty hack to print the number of characters got mangled by my shell and I didn't notice that there were 23760 spaces. However, that number should be viewed with caution as a fair few of those will have been added by the automatic indentation. –  Loop Space Feb 17 '10 at 20:54
Don't forget the CAPS lock key, which is pretty much useless. If you're using Vim, you can remap it to Escape for quicker mode-changes. –  Jason Polak Feb 17 '10 at 21:26

Does an APL keyboard (e.g., http://www.aplusdev.org/keyboard.html) qualify?

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Rather like I already said below? –  Jacques Carette Feb 17 '10 at 19:25

All keyboards are more or less the same, the only difference is in the symbols printed on the keys. Hence the question is really about math keyboard layouts.

My keyboard layout has a lot of math symbols and use them every time I type math. Some examples (typed using my keyboard layout!): α β Γ Δ ψ Ψ (all greek letters are included), ≤ ≥ ⊗ → ∈ ∞ ↦ ≠ 〈 〉 ⊂ ⊃ ⊆ ⊇ ≅ ≃

TeX has about 230 math symbols (including Greek letters). You can easily encode them all, but my keyboard layout has only about 50 most commonly used symbols and 24*2=48 Greek letters.

And note that you can easily setup TeX to recognize Unicode math symbols in UTF-8 encoding.

Incidentally, I also have commonly used punctuation marks that are absent from ASCII: “ ” ‘ ’ – — …

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How do you set up TeX to recognize Unicode? If you respond to this, I might not see it, so you should also email me if you respond :-) –  Kevin H. Lin Apr 9 '10 at 8:07
For LaTeX something like \usepackage[utf8x,math]{inputenx}\usepackage[LGR, T1]{fontenc} should work, although I cannot test it. For Plain TeX you can use my (experimental) package plain-utf8.tex found on my Plain TeX page: math.berkeley.edu/~pavlov/tex –  Dmitri Pavlov Apr 11 '10 at 4:40
When I was typing stuff up on Word, back when I was using Windows (I know, and I know), I set up Greek as my other keyboard layout. The beauty about it is that you can press alt+shift and it switches the layout between your languages. I never know you could use Greek characters in LaTeX though. Must check it out. –  Pádraig Ó Conbhuí May 10 '10 at 6:54

If one is using Linux, one can set up compose sequences to have access to a large number of mathematical symbols. If one is using Windows, one can simulate this using a freeware application called "allchars". If one is using a Macintosh, one should be able to do something similar, but as I don't regularly use such a computer, I do not know if a third-party application is necessary.

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If you are using the TeX-Editor WinEdt you can do the following:

Go to Options->Settings->Translations->Keyboard. You you can completely customize your keyboard. For example I use ";" -> "$" in order to type the dollar symbol more conveniently.

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Does anyone know if there is a similar solution for Kile? –  Peter McNamara Sep 24 '10 at 21:05

One almost existed. The program I use to write TeX has several "keyboards". For example, typing Ctrl-g switches to the Greek "keyboard" and then "a" puts "\alpha" in your file; typing Ctrl-s and then "a" puts "\angle" in your file. At one time, the owners of the program were planning to produce a keyboard with the property that the symbol on the keyboard would change when you switched keyboards. So when you typed Ctrl-g, you would see $\alpha$ on the "a" key (I think they were planning to use LEDs). It was certainly an interesting idea, but, no, I wouldn't buy such a thing --- like most people here, I touch-type, and prefer to enter everything with a sequence of normal characters.

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For the record, I do NOT find this question off-topic.

Math is moving away from the pen and paper (or chalk and chalkboard) days. Computers are everywhere, and, unlike days of old when computers were notoriously BAD at math, modern languages, such as Python, have built in representations of fractions, complex numbers, positive and negative infinity, etc.

Matrices and vectors, for example, are used in everything from the latest shoot-em-up to bank transactions, to simulation software and drawing programs.

It is about time that we had a real solution for entering and working with real equations on a computer, rather than having to slog it out with --> area = (PI * (r^2)).

Would I buy a keyboard that had all the standard mathematical symbols built into it?


And while, yes, I am aware that I can remap a standard keyboard, and while yes, I touch type... some of these symbols would be used often enough to want on the keyboard, yet rarely enough to have no idea where you put them. (Where the %&@# did I put phi? CTRL-P? Bah, PI... Alt P? Rho? Whats that doing there?)... a quick look down on the proper keyboard could solve this easily.

And yes... I came to this board after doing a Google search for just such a beast... if this question had not been asked here, I never would have wandered to your site.


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You are not answering the question... –  Mariano Suárez-Alvarez Oct 5 '10 at 20:01

Optimus Maximus [1] can become just what you need.

[1] http://www.artlebedev.com/everything/optimus/

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The trick about typing fast is NOT having to look up the symbols written on the keyboard. So, no, this is not a keyboard for professionals. –  darij grinberg Jan 16 '11 at 21:49

Might be a nice touchscreen app, even for a fairly small touchscreen device like an Android phone. Most text typing would be on the computer's normal keyboard, but symbols could be entered on a "virtual" touchscreen keyboard. The software would be set up so that you could type both keyboards simultaneously without having to mouse around and so forth. Hmm, maybe I'll try implementing this.

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A German group developed a new keyboard layout, called neo (similar to the Dvorak layout), which is optimized for German words, but also for English.

This layout has six layers; layer 5 is for Greek chars and layer 6 is for math symbols.

You can check their website: http://www.neo-layout.org (in German; you can also consider the English translation of the site by Google).

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I don't care that I can't actually touch-type all those keys; as long as all the mathematical keys, Greek letters and European accents are somewhere on my desk, that's good enough. I want to be able to press it, not fiddle around in software to insert my characters.

I think it'd be best as an extra keyboard just with these characters, rather than a replacement for QWERTY. Is it possible to have 2 keyboards like this? I'd definitely buy one

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My maths is just high school level. I want to propose a mathematics keyboard for high school level.

The key arrangement is a bit liked the old cell phones:

[abc]one key [fgh]one key[ijk] [lmn] [pqr] [rst] [uvw] [xyzw] [e $\pi$] [cosh sinh] [tanh sech] [coth csch] [cos sin] [tan sec] [cot csc] $[\Sigma\int\Pi]$ [CP!] [<=>] $[\rightarrow\cdot']$

+ number pad

I would liked to try this keyboard.

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I actually have an onscreen keyboard that has these layouts. Here you can find a bunch of layouts, the one called "Special" has Greek, and as many math symbols as I could stuff in, using shift, ctrl, and combinations.

∩∈⊂⊆∼≃≅≈≊× = ∃∄ℯℜ √∐ℹℴ℘∣∥≡ ∀⅀∂ℱℏℌ∫∮ℓ°∞ ℤ∠∁∇ℬℕℳ<> ≌≐≝⋍ ℚ ℰℛ∜ ℑ∅ℿ ℵℋ∭∰∱∲ ⊕⊗⊢⊣⊤⊥⊨⊩⊬ ∪∉⊄⊈≁≄≇≉≉≠ ℇ∛ ℐ∅ℙ∤∤∦≢ ∆ℾℍ∬∯ℒ∙∝ ≥≰≱≮≯

Can use it on the web.

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