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?