The picture below is of the Microsoft Sidewinder X6, a largely forgotten gaming keyboard from Microsoft.
It was, and still is, close to being the best gaming keyboard ever made. Why?
- A swappable numeric keypad that can be turned into a macro pad means that MMO players are happy.
- Convenient macro keys close to the WASD cluster so FPS players can have their fun as well
- It has a red backlight that does not ruin your night vision, it also looks less tacky then blue backlights which are starting to have a backlash against their overuse.
- The backlight’s brightness can be easily adjusted through the left knob up on top. This makes it really simple to just twist the knob and turn off the backlight before going to bed. No strange key combination to remember.
- There is a volume control knob, for lighting quick changes in volume level, no pounding on the Vol- key while your ears are getting blasted.
- A full set of media playback keys, meaning there are no strange hotkeys or function+key combinations to remember.
Now, that said, this keyboard is not perfect. It does not have N-Key Rollover. which is very very unfortunate. The keyboard that came after it, the Sidewinder X4, has amazing NKRO and red backlighting, but is otherwise a very utilitarian keyboard. This fits its role as a low cost gaming keyboard, but it entered into a very crowded market and it didn’t really taken the world by storm.
The other problem with the X6 is that the high end gaming keyboard market has moved on. The current big thing is Cherry MX switches of various types. Right now only a few manufactures are making gaming keyboards with Cherry MX switches, and with the exception of Corsair’s Vengeance series, all the Cherry MX gaming keyboards are fairly spartan in their feature offerings. Many of them do not even have media control keys and the vast majority have the same styling as regular cheap PC pack-in keyboards.
I believe that when you take into consideration all these factors (Microsoft’s excellent design work on the X6 and the lack of real competitors in this product space) that Microsoft is in a great position to enter into and dominate the market for high end gaming keyboards.
How? Quite simple: Release an updated version of the Sidewinder X6 with NKRO that uses Cherry MX switches. Offer it in two SKUs, one with Brown switches and one with Red. (The CherryMX brown sku could even have a limited production run, but it would serve the purpose of getting excellent press amongst enthusiasts.)
This would immediately place Microsoft’s offering at the top of the pack for Cherry MX gaming keyboards by offering more features than any other gaming keyboard of comparable quality. The X6’s design was already great, and re-released and updated it has the potential to be the best gaming keyboard sold by anyone.
The second aspect of this is doing a proper marketing campaign. Thankfully there are so few CherryMX gaming keyboards out on the market right now that getting reviewers to take a look at your product is comparably easy, as is building up a good grassroots base on forums. If MS sets out full throttle on both paths, top down and ground up, a new CherryMX X6 should be well received by a community that eagerly awaits the latest high quality products.