Why QMK/VIA is one of the most essential features for a custom keyboard?
Since the invention of keyboards or mechanical keyboards, users from all over the globe have been on the chase to find the ideal keyboard layout for them. Keyboard users have been confined by the different kinds of keyboard layouts companies have introduced to the market.
Even though remapping software and custom keyboards are getting more traction among enthusiasts and even beginners, you still can't fully customize every key (and different layers) on a keyboard and you may need to set up everything again (without onboard memory) when you use another laptop or PC. Indeed, it's not perfect.
If you type a lot daily, like for emails, texts, photo editing, video editing, etc, you may want to make every keystroke as efficient as possible in order to be more productive. That's why software such as QMK/VIA or Vial exist and are getting popular.
QMK/VIA is literally the Holy Grail of keyboard customization with infinite possibilities.
The VIA configurator allows users to intuitively remap any key on the keyboard, and create numerous macro commands, shortcuts, or key combinations for your keyboard. If your keyboard supports multiple layers for different operating systems, such as Windows and Mac, users can even customize different settings on each layer for your QMK/VIA-enabled keyboard. And some even come with onboard memory to save your keyboard settings so you don't need to set up everything again when connecting to other devices.
With these personalized key settings, a QMK/VIA-enabled keyboard can help to boost your productivity in many many ways and allows users to make any change with ease. Highly customizable, fast, easy, and accessible, what more can you ask for?
What is QMK/VIA? (Technically)
(TLDR) QMK is an abbreviation for Quantum Mechanical Keyboard, it's an open-source project that allows users with enough skills or developers to build their own QMK firmware for a custom keyboard to control backlight effects, macros, custom keycodes, and mouse commands on different keymap layers.
VIA works by communicating with the firmware that is running on the device and sends commands via USB. Enabling the VIA feature in QMK helps to support both the ability to communicate with the VIA Configurator and the ability to store keymaps and other settings.
Remap a key that does not exist in the original keyboard layout
Check out the video above demonstrating how to remap a Light Effect key on the top right corner of the Keychron K8 Pro keyboard to the Eject key with VIA software, so you can use a shortcut to put your Mac to sleep (Command-Option-Eject), or even remap the fn key with ease.
The video below demonstrates how to create a macro command of a screenshot (Shift-Command-4) on macOS, so you can take a screenshot with a single key.
Even though QMK/VIA is highly customizable, only a certain amount of keyboard models support this feature. Not every keyboard comes with QMK/VIA out of the box, which means users still need to look for the firmware, find the tutorial on the internet, and re-flash it by yourself for every little tweak.
Fortunately, more and more keyboard makers have launched out-of-the-box QMK/VIA-compatible keyboards in the past few years, such as Keychron's Q and V series custom keyboard line-up that will cover most of the keyboard sizes that you may need.
Since most of the QMK/VIA compatible keyboards are not wireless enabled. If you're looking to get everything in one: wireless, QMK/VIA enabled, customizable, hot-swappable, budget-friendly, and more, you may want to consider the Keychron K Pro series (including K2 Pro, K6 Pro, K8 Pro, etc.) keyboards. They are usually a good deal for both beginners and enthusiasts because this line-up aims to cover most layouts from compact to full-size as well. Not to mention, the team has optimized the VIA with compatibility across Windows, Mac and Linux.
Let's see what the future holds
These highly customizable software (QMK, VIA, and Vial) are getting more traction among users and it can really enhance the typing experience for most users. Cheers.