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Input Devices Cellphones Hardware

Is It Time To End Our Love Affair With the QWERTY Keyboard? 557

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-need-a-little-spacebar dept.
Master Moose writes "Brisbane-based entrepreneur John Lambie currently has in beta an alternative to what he calls the 'dysfunctional' QWERTY keyboard. Given the way the world is abandoning their keyboards for smartphones he sees now as the perfect time to introduce a new layout. He calls his new keyboard Dextr and believes it is the natural progression from using a number pad to enter text — This is especially so in developing countries where users have not grown up with QWERTYs on thier phones. While he is not the first to ever propose an alternate or alphabetical keyboard — Are we locked into QWERTY for familiarity's sake, or as we shift to smaller, more mobile and new devices, is Mr. Lambie's project coming at the right time?"
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Is It Time To End Our Love Affair With the QWERTY Keyboard?

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  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:12AM (#40612981)

    No. That is all.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:14AM (#40612991)

    For the love of all that is holy, stop wasting time trying to 'fix' something that is not broken!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:15AM (#40613013)
    No. [wikipedia.org]
  • Inertia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zrbyte (1666979) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:16AM (#40613017)

    It didn't change at the transition to the PC from typewriters and it's not going to change now (in any significant way).

  • by Tmann72 (2473512) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:17AM (#40613023)
    They Qwerty keyboard layout was specifically designed to prevent jamming in typewriters while at full typing speed.It optimized the usage of the levers to prevent those jams. This functionality is useless in the modern world, and there are in fact better alternatives. It may not be broken, but it's not necessarily the best tool for the job.
  • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Slashbots (2681871) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:17AM (#40613025)
    And don't get me even started with countries that have other character sets like Russia, Germany or Thailand. Come on Slashdot, how hard it is to know anything outside US?
  • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:20AM (#40613061)

    No. That is all.

    How the hell did this get insightful?

    the problem with texting on smartphones isn't the keyboard layout, it's that big fat thumbs sometimes hit the button next to the intended one. While qwerty is no better than any other layout on a smartphone, it IS a great layout on pc keyboards which is where I do most of my typing, so why should I learn two layouts when the one I use most often is at worst equally bad as any other?

  • by jellomizer (103300) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:23AM (#40613085)

    However, the problem was as people learned how to use QWERTY keyboards, their typing speed increased to a point where it doesn't matter how the keys are located. Typing speed remains nearly unaffected, just as long as people know where the keys are.

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:24AM (#40613091)
    He will follow in the footsteps of Dvorak [wikipedia.org], colemak [colemak.com] (oh how I wish this was used everywhere), and the the many other layouts [assistivetech.net] into either oblivion or a small number of dedicated users who cannot understand why everyone else doesn't want to switch to their layout.
  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:27AM (#40613125) Homepage Journal

    there are in fact better alternatives

    Sure, but alphabetical order isn't one of them.

  • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:30AM (#40613147) Homepage Journal

    For ten-fingered input, the maximum gains in typing performance brought on by a new keyboard layout are minimal; one or two percent at best. As long as your hands can reach the whole keyboard, the difference in time it takes for any given keystroke is negligible. The real benefit that comes from, for example, Dvorak vs. QWERTY, is a reduction in stress on the hands, and hence RSI. Saying that QWERTY "optimized" typewriter jamming would be overly generous; the improvement over the traditional alphabetical key ordering was only performed to a modest extent, and the typists of the day were not proficient touch-typists as we are now.

    In the case of thumb-typing, however, great improvement is possible. The Metropolis keyboard [psu.edu], for example, was generated stochastically by optimising an energy function based on letter pair frequency, and provides a 40% typing speed increase over QWERTY.

  • Fingertip sized? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jklovanc (1603149) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:39AM (#40613229)

    Who's fingertip? a four year old girl's fingers or a my sausage sized fingers? Finger tip size varies a lot.

  • Re:Inertia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fearofcarpet (654438) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:41AM (#40613255)

    I learned to type on a typewriter. Now I use this keyboard [daskeyboard.com] at work (I do a lot of writing for my job). Since there are no labels on the keys, I can see the wear patterns and they are concentrated around the home row (and space bar) exactly as intended. I suppose the home row makes no sense on virtual keyboards, but then again virtual keyboards make no sense, which is why there are a zillion "swipe" and "predictive" keyboards on the Android market... so, yah, as you say, interta; I already have to deal with f***ing French keyboards, why would I want to complicate my life even more by adding another non-QWERTY keyboard to the mix?

  • by erroneus (253617) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:42AM (#40613265) Homepage

    "Have you stopped beating your wife?"

    We don't "love" qwerty. It's what we use. Little more than that. The learning curve is horrible, but once you got it, learning anything after that would be more painful than it would be worth.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto [wikipedia.org]

    The English language has all sorts of grammar, spelling, and pronunciation problems. It's a nasty difficult to learn mix of germanic and romance language pronounciation and word derivations. Take the word "Sure". Where is the "H" in "sure"? Speaking of "where", why is it not "ware"? And what the bleep is up with "cough", "dough", and "plough"? Ridiculous nonsense, horrible language with too many idiosyncratic oddities to learn.

    And yet it remains an international standard for business. Why? History, that's why.

    And that history locks the language in this role is the deciding factor, regardless of how much more intelligently designed, more easily learned, more easily understood, that Esperanto is.

    And same applies to the QWERTY keyboard. I am certain there are more intelligent designs out there, like the dvorak:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dvorak_Simplified_Keyboard [wikipedia.org]

    And so why hasn't the dvorak caught on? And why won't this new keyboard catch on? Historical lock in, that's why.

  • by l3v1 (787564) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:52AM (#40613351)
    "They Qwerty keyboard layout was specifically designed to prevent jamming in typewriters while at full typing speed.It optimized the usage of the levers to prevent those jams. This functionality is useless in the modern world [...]" and as with a lot of things in computing, it reached a point where it is totally pointless to compare the current situation to the origins (e.g. think about the endless debates about changing de facto standard icons like floppy disk for save and so on and so forth). It doesn't matter now why it was done so. But it matters that the current majority of computer users are accustomed to it to a point where changing it wouldn't be worth the hassle. Now, providing options for other layouts, that's a different story, there's nothing wrong with that. But this dextr (or what) thing should stay on the touchscreens and be done with it, in the big family of gazillion+1 versions of touchscreen keyboard variants. That's it, nothing more, nothing less. Too much fuss again about some piece of crap.
  • Re:Inertia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dogtanian (588974) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:53AM (#40613371) Homepage

    It would have made sense if people adopted the abcdef keyboard (alphabetical)

    Why? Just because it's the most obvious layout, doesn't mean it's the optimal one for typing. At most it's going to make it slightly easier for complete beginners to find keys before they've learned where they are.

    I'm not claiming that QWERTY is the best layout for typing- in fact, it's generally accepted that it almost certainly isn't.

    But as you say, there have been countless attempts to do alternate layouts, and few have gained much traction. If we're talking about mobile devices (where, after all, people learned to "type" on a non-QWERTY 12-digit keyboard (*)) perhaps sticking with a full keyboard- albeit with different layout- isn't thinking far enough (**), and we should be considering something like Microwriter [wikipedia.org]- which first appeared 30 years ago!

    (*) And showed no inclination do use that on a computer
    (**) I was going to say "not thinking far enough outside the box" but I really loathe that stupid cliche even though I can't think of anything better. Always found it ironic that "thinking outside the box" is such a cliched, unoriginal, unimaginative, corporate, stuck inside the damn box phrase(!!)

  • Re:Inertia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @08:02AM (#40613445) Journal
    No kidding. Dextr is just alphabetic with the vowels in a column. It's stupid. A Qwerty style keyboard in a Dvorak layout (slide-out wide keyboard) would actually work great on a phone--because your thumbs would alternate, just like you alternate hands on Dvorak. Of course that's biased to English, but the principle stands: give me a reason to use a different layout, don't just throw something stupid but pretty in front of me and claim the old thing is outdated and the new hotness is new. We know it's new. Getting herpes would also be a refreshing change, but I think I'm better off with the mundane life of being STD free.
  • Re:Inertia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jawtheshark (198669) * <slashdot@nospam.jawtheshark.com> on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @08:20AM (#40613657) Homepage Journal

    I already have to deal with f***ing French keyboards

    You think that's bad? I cope on a daily basis with Belgian, French, German, Swiss, US and UK keyboards. Sure some of those are only slight variations, but believe me, it ain't fun.

    My opinion: everone migrates to US-International and we're done with it.

  • Re:Inertia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rbrausse (1319883) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @08:32AM (#40613829)

    It would have made sense if people adopted the abcdef keyboard (alphabetical)

    Douglas Adams answered this one many years ago [douglasadams.com]:

    The principle behind the decision to have an alphabetical keyboard is based on a misunderstanding. I believe that the idea is this: not everybody knows qwerty (it's an odd feeling actually typing qwerty as a word. Try it and you'll see what I mean) but everybody knows the alphabet. This true but irrelevant. People know the alphabet as a one dimensional string, not as a two-dimensional array, so you're going to have to hunt and peck anyway.

  • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by V-similitude (2186590) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @08:46AM (#40614031)

    The fact that QWERTY was designed for a typewriter, ie with the most-used keys farthest apart, probably is a benefit for virtual keyboards (and I'm saying this as someone who exclusively uses dvorak for regular typing). If you have the vowels all in the same place (like this, or like dvorak), you're going to get a lot more typos that the OS can't fix for you (eg "in" vs "on", since they're both valid choices). Of course, "in" vs "on" is still an issue on qwerty, so we could definitely do better, but it's an entirely different optimization decision than with a physical 10-finger keyboard.

    Of course, it doesn't seem like any typing optimizations at all went into this arbitrarily-touted keyboard, so no comment there.

  • by gr8_phk (621180) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @08:51AM (#40614091)

    Indeed, I would very much expect an alphabetically ordered layout to be technically slightly superior to QWERTY.

    I wouldn't. Alphabetical order is only good for people who need to search for the keys. Anyone who has even moderate typing ability does not need to look at the keys. So placing the keys in a way that takes into account letter frequency and doublet frequency and human dexterity would seem to be the way to go - that's a complicated problem which I would bet does not have alphabetical order as an optimal solution.

    As I type this looking at the screen and not the keyboard, I realize that my biggest problem is getting my hands misaligned when returning to the home position - this is due to my tendency to not use my pinkie fingers which mean I need to move side-to-side more. I either need a keyboard that helps me get back home, or I need to learn to use all my fingers when they are supposed to - hey, I used a pinky for an "a" - go me!

  • Re:Inertia (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lord Lode (1290856) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @08:51AM (#40614099)

    As a Belgian, I abandoned azerty. Qwerty is indeed better for programming. And azerty is for the French language. The Dutch language, spoken by most Belgians, has absolutely no need for a q in the center row. I really don't understand how azerty ever ended up being used in Flanders.

  • The ideal layout (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dixie_Flatline (5077) <vincent,jan,goh&gmail,com> on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @08:56AM (#40614173) Homepage

    The ideal smartphone layout would move letters that have similar placements in words as far apart from one another as possible.

    Bat
    Bet
    Bit
    Bot
    But

    That's a pretty trivial example, but it takes no effort to come up with examples where letters get confused for one another and a predictive text system has no way of knowing whether you meant to do that or not. I type 'of' or 'if' each in place of the other about a dozen times a day. It makes me nuts.

    The whole keyboard is trivially reachable, so I don't think that it's worth worrying about letter frequency and how fast you can move your fingers to type. We should be trying to make the keyboard properly enhance and support predictive text systems. The faster you can type out--without errors--the first recognisable part of a word, the faster the autocorrect system can make a guess for you. Don't fight it, USE it.

    Autocorrect is only makes ridiculous mistakes right now because of the way that we've got our letters grouped together. We end up sending it confusing cues, so of course it picks strange words.

    This 'dextr' layout looks terrible. Not only is it huge, it doesn't actually solve the problem. The vowels are cleverly stacked on top of one another, which is probably going to lead to just as many accidental vowel replacements as before, just different kinds. Letters that can often replace one another in words are still right next to each other.

    I believe there could be a better texting keyboard than qwerty, but this sure isn't it.

  • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kergan (780543) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @09:31AM (#40614519)

    No?

  • Re:Inertia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstrickler (920733) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @09:31AM (#40614521)

    And putting the vowels in a column will make it difficult to adapt something like Swype to the layout, because it makes a problem Swype has even worse. Suppose you want to type "pit". Using Swype on a qwerty layout, you have to be careful with stopping on the i, because o and u are right next to it, and pot and put are also valid words. With all the vowels in a column, if you're a bit too high, you get "pet", too low = "pot", significantly too high = "pat" and significantly too low = "put". Five valid words distinguished solely by the vertical position of the vowel. There are thousands of other examples. Swype with qwerty has that issue with u, i, & o, (& y) this layout extends the problem to all 5 vowels.

    Another problem, an extra two rows of keys on many mobile devices presents a space problem. Even on touchscreen devices, the 4 row layout (3 qwerty + space, shift, etc.) used by Android and iOS takes up a lot of screen space already, adding two more rows means you either make the rows shorter (aggravating the problem above), use up too much screen height, or move the space, shift, enter, etc to the sides of the layout. Either way, you compromise usability even more.

    Alphabetic ordered keyboards may initially be faster for those unfamiliar with qwerty, but they're not faster for for anyone experienced with qwerty, even for two-finger typists. My in-dash GPS/nav system uses an alphabetic layout, and it's definitely slower for me than qwerty would be. Of course, as slow as that nav system is to respond, qwerty wouldn't actually be faster, bit it would require less searching and therefore be less distracting and frustrating. The alphabet is useful for ordering/filing, but it bears no relationship to letter frequency or digraph/trigraph patterns, so it doesn't help with typing words.

    Since dvorak, colemak, and other optimized layouts haven't really caught on, I'm afraid we'll be living with qwerty and it's international variants for a long time.

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