Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Qwerty's quirkiness

This article over on cnet caught my eye about a new keyboard being shown at CES that is taking on Qwerty-style keyboards. Good idea, right? I agree, but blech! Look at it!

I just CANNOT beleive that strict alphabetical order is the right answer here.

I think that Dvorak had the right approach (design for usage patterns, vs qwerty, which was designed to slow down typists so that Underwood-style typewriter letter-hammers wouldn't stick), but:

- Dvorak was aiming for speed - a modern approach would aim to balance speed with comfort (RSI-prevention)
- computer keyboards have more keys and different usages than typewriters in teh 20's (e.g. CTRL, Windows key, etc).
- Software today could be used to instrument different designs.

I think the best idea would be to build a keyboard with a small LCD built into each and every key, and have the layout be reprogrammable. It could default to qwerty, but different optimal designs could be devised and used by different classes of users (e.g. programmers might end up with thesemi-colon on their home-row index or middle finger position).

Any PC's keyboard could defaul tot qwerty, but users could log in and have their profile update the keyboard layout.

OK, enough crazy ideas. I'm off to bed!


Mark said...

hell yeah. I'm with ya. That "new keyboard" sucks. It's designed for someone new to typing, I think, so they can find the keys easily. It's not designed for someone who types a lot and needs to be efficient. Also, putting the arrow keys in the center is stupid as it forces you to ulnar-deviate your hand too far when you use them. Ugh.

Darius Kazemi said...

Someone already built a prototype of your LCD keyboard idea:


kim said...

Thanks for the pointer Darius, but from the other content on that site, I'm guessing that's just an artist's rendition, not that they actually built it.

But yeah, that's what I meant! Only I'd want the split keyboard like MS's.

John Stark said...

Up next; hacked keyboard drivers that randomly move keys around, or duplicate keys, or spell out nasty-grams about your hamfistedness.

We could even have downladable fonts, a picture per key, and ultimately you could turn the whole damn keyboard into a game of whack-a-mole for the kiddies.

kim said...

Better yet, have it use the webcam to only change the keys when you look at the screen, and then change them back when you look down at the keyboard.

"#$%#! I could swear I pressed the letter 'E'!!!!"

Ryan said...

I used to have an old IBM keyboard and switched around the keys to the Dvorak format to try it out. The keys had removable caps that you could pull out with your index finger and thumb. The tedious part was putting them all back in dvorak and then back to qwerty. Go interchangeable parts! Well, that could work like the lcd keys.. kind of. And also, that alphabetized keyboard is oh so lame.

Dan Wood said...

Years ago I invested much time in learning touch typing QWERTY and as inefficient as it is, I could never retrain myself.

But working within my QWERTY limitation, I always thought that the best idea for a keyboard would be a design which would alleviate the need to EVER remove my hands from 'home row' (you know left index finger of f, right index finger on j).

On my IBM laptop, I have a little mouse nubbin in the middle of the keys. While this is close to home row, it isn't perfect.

A smart idea would be to make the letter 'j' double as the mouse nubbin. A 'toggle' key could be placed directly under the space bar. By using the thumb, the user simply reaches down hits the toggle key and it switches the letter j from simple letter to mouse and back again. While in mouse mode, the user could move sideways, up/down, by manipulating j as if it were a mouse nubbin. In mouse mode, clicking j is equivalent to left-click and you could make k the right-click. Once cursor positioning is over, you hammer the toggle key and just keep on typing.

The benefit of all of this is that you could mouse navigate without ever taking your hands off the home row or your eyes off of the screen.

The physical training of hitting toggle is simple enough and similar enough to the act of typing I think it would work.

kim said...


- Bull, you could retrain yourself.

- Not sure the combo's vs moving fingers would constitute a savings.

- There is a keyboard that never makes you move from 'home row', though I'm not sure that's a valid name with THIS weird design:


Now THAT would require some getting used to!