Ever used a non-QWERTY keyboard?

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The QWERTY keyboard was developed in the late 19th century to make it harder for people to type quickly, and thus prevent typewriters from jamming. It’s been with us ever since, even though jams are no longer much of a problem in the era of computers and keyboards.

Usability experts have long been dreaming of a different way of doing things, and according to Virginia Heffernan’s latest column in the Times Magazine, they may soon get their way. Apparently, the iPad keyboard is “chorded” so that you enter characters by pressing multiple keys at the same time. You can use the same setup on your iPhone. I don’t have either of those devices, and I’ll admit that I’m a bit baffled by how it really works, but you can read more about it here.

Whenever I visit a foreign country, I’m amazed at how difficult it is to unlearn the way that I’m used to typing. German keyboards are quite similar to American ones — though they make it easier to insert vowels with umlauts — so that’s not much of a change. But French keyboards, mon Dieu! You have to shift to get a period, a bunch of letters are in different places, and you shift for numbers, too. Composing the simplest of emails suddenly turns into a tedious task.

Obviously, the fact that people are used to a particular system is no inherent reason not to change, but while I’m happy to experiment, the truth is I don’t have much reason to abandon a system I’ve grown adept at using well, and quickly. Especially because I know I won’t see immediate benefits — I’ll have to relearn how to type first. One hates to sound so reflexively anti-innovation, but there you have it.

What do you think? Have you ever experimented with a non-QWERTY keyboard?

6 thoughts on “Ever used a non-QWERTY keyboard?

  1. I switched to Dvorak many years ago but then switched back after I reached about 80 WPM. The reason? I was doing tech support and I found that after using the Dvorak keyboard I could not use QWERTY anymore. I had to carry my BIOS switched keyboard with me. (Those were in the days before software supported Dvorak.) Note: Some of the fastest typists use Dvorak, some as fast as 212 WPM. It took me about a month to switch over and another two weeks to switch back again.

  2. The only non-QWERTY “keyboard” I tried was a virtual keyboard on a Palm PDA called the FITALY keyboard. Like the Dvorak is meant to minimize finger travel, the FITALY was meant to minimize stylus travel when tapping the virtual Palm keyboard with the stylus. It groups the most commonly used letters in the English language near the center; the least frequently used letters are in the periphery. If I recall correctly, the winning typing speed on a Palm in a contest sponsored by the company was around 75 words per minute! I never approached that speed, but it was a huge improvement over the virtual QWERTY keyboard. I’d love to see it on an iPhone, but I haven’t even seen the possibility hinted at.

  3. I switched to Dvorak a year or so ago and have never looked back. My main reason for switching was to combat RSI from typing on a
    QWERTY all day. This is a non-issue for some people, but I was getting major wrist and elbow pain. Since switching to Dvorak, I’ve yet to experience any pain from typing. Once you get the hang of it, typing feels substantially easier and there is much less hand movement. Check out YouTube for some great hand movement comparisons.

  4. I now live in France, but I bought all our computers with us from UK, I’ve tried several times to try learning to use a French keyboard, but as you say for most internet related tasks it is just so long winded and frustrating.

    When we come around to updating or replacing my wife’s desktop we will order from Apple or Dell, they both offer English Keyboards rather than French!!


  5. I’m learning Russian, and the program I use includes typing – yikes – learning where the letters are is almost as much effort as learning the alphabet in the first place!

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