Why you should care

Because tomorrow morning’s cup of joe might just kill your Mac.

I grew up in a South Asian family where we protected everything with plastic covers — including our VCR remote control. So while it’s not surprising that I continue to shield my electronics like precious artifacts, for years I’ve left the keyboard of my MacBook Pro exposed to random smoothie spills, Goldfish crumbs and germy sneezes.

And I didn’t think much about it — until I picked up a $20 iSkin keyboard cover to see what all the fuss was about. These thin, silicone keyboard covers are custom designed for Mac keyboards, which they slip over like gloves. (The market for PC keyboard covers is too fragmented, since there are hundreds of models.)

We’ve all heard horror stories of friends killing their laptops after a water bottle tips or a cat misses the litter box. After all, the heart of a laptop computer sits below the keys, according to Rishi Persaud, iSkin’s VP of business development and strategic planning.

Isn’t it worth $20 for an extra layer of protection that could save you upward of $2,000 to buy a new laptop?

“It gives you that time … that second to take the keyboard protector off with the liquid or with the dust or whatever you might have spilled, and allows you just to wash it off and put it right back on as if nothing happened,” Persaud says.

Sip and snack on with the iSkin keyboard keeper.

Sip and snack on with the iSkin keyboard cover.

Sure, you might be that lone neat freak who never eats while typing and never spills anything, but isn’t it worth $20 for a layer of protection that could save you upward of $2,000 to buy a new laptop … just in case?

What’s more, KB Covers come printed with video, design, photography and audio software applications’ shortcuts for extra functionality. From Photoshop to Final Cut Pro to World of Warcraft, these custom covers cater to a range of super-users. “In the case of video editing, you can speed up your efficiency probably a good 40 to 50 percent if you know your keyboard shortcuts,” said KB Covers President Bruce Franklin.

As for the iSkin ProTouch FX cover I’ve been using, I like the feel but am bothered that it sometimes seems to slow my typing. And my bigger objection is how keyboard covers compromise the computer’s intended form factor. Isn’t the MacBook, in all its naked, aluminum unibody glory, a thing of beauty in and of itself? Would you throw a Snuggie over the Venus de Milo?

It’s true that products should be designed to survive without protectant covers, but Francois Nguyen, creative director at frog, says it can actually be “flattering” to industrial designers when customers place so much value on a design that they pay to protect it. “It’s that preservation of something that they regard as precious,” Nguyen says.

And then there’s the practical angle: In today’s world of eBay and Craigslist, people are constantly buying and reselling electronics — which means that protecting your assets can translate to more dough in your pocket.

Keyboard covers are clearly a niche product that may not suit everyone. But don’t say I didn’t tell you so the next time someone jostles your latte and your Mac gets mucked.

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