Breaking Up With QWERTY

Folk wisdom says the QWERTY keyboard was invented in 1875 to slow typists who were overwhelming the machinery of primitive typewriters. The truth is that it was designed for the convenience of telegraph operators who needed to convert Morse Code’s dots and dashes into text.

The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard arranged the letters in ways that better corresponded with frequency of use of individual and neighboring letters. Typing speeds were 74% faster and accuracy increased by 68%. Eighty years later, few people have ever heard of it.

KALQ keyboards arrived a few years ago. Typing is faster in part due to key arrangement and in part to splitting the keyboard in two to make it easier to type with our thumbs.

And there are others. But with touchscreens on smartphones and tablets used more than computers, keyboards are still laid out the old way.

The barrier is not writing software that arranges touchscreen “keys” in more functional ways, but in getting people to give up their entrenched ways.

Change Is Hard

The metric system is vastly superior to the English system, where a foot was just that. But in spite of the US trying in the early 1800s and again in the 1970s, the change was rejected. This is another demonstration of what we all know –  it is hard to get people to change their ways once they’ve developed a habit.

So Americans who could invest a small amount of time in learning the decimal system stubbornly stick to the odd fractions system (Hand me that 7/32 wrench, will you?). And they stick to QWERTY keyboards because they don’t want to be bothered with the effort.

What To Do?

When environmentalist organizations wanted to change people’s attitudes and habits toward recycling, they skipped adults altogether and went straight to school children.

Nestlé used the same strategy in Japan. When they couldn’t overcome a tea culture among adults, they introduced coffee to kids as a subtle flavor in sweet desserts. The idea was that they would become accustomed to the taste and would evolve into drinking coffee as adults.

Preschool kids start using smartphones and tablets long before using computers. Might it be a good idea that the first keyboard your children see is a better one than the awkward and inefficient layout still with us 142 years later?