Monthly Archives: April 2013

Two thumbs down for KALQ

Our WTF??!!?? of the month surely goes to the krazy konfubulation kalled KALQ.

Recently launched by the venerable Max Planck Institute and the no-less-venerable University of St Andrews, KALQ offers to solve the pressing problem of texting on a tablet.

It’s solution: rescramble the alphabet so that your thumb travels the least distance possible between letters. I love it when engineers try to solve ergonomic problems with equations: “If we minimise ze thumb-travelling coefficient, based on ze relative frequency each letter of ze alphabet, we can increase ze speed of typing, ja?” Logic beats intuition.

Max Planck Institute for Informatics

The blank squares represent the space bar and clustered around this central locus are all the high frequency letters… sort of. They claim that with 8 hours of intensive training, you will become as fast as you were on QWERTY. And after 19 hours you could be even faster than QWERTY. With efficiency gains of up to 34%.

Forgive us if we’re underwhelmed. Here’s why:

1. This is a tablet-only solution – so all that retraining is for only one device. which means we’re still condemned to using QWERTY on the rest of our devices.

2. Learning curves – Hate them. It does not take 8 hours to master QWERTY, professors. It takes months (if you take lessons) or even years (if you try to teach yourself). And countless hours of practice. What makes you think this new letter scramble is going to be easier – especially if we’re continually reverting to QWERTY on every other device?

3. History – Do the words Dvorak or Colemak mean anything to you? They too took the logic-over-intuition path, invented their own hard-to-learn letter scramble and have been consigned to the industrial scrap heap of disuse.

4. Intuition eats logic for breakfast – the most widely used and ubiquitous keyboard ever requires no lessons, no hours of rote practice, and no special muscle-motor memory. It’s called the T9 Alphanumeric Keypad. It can be found in the hands and pockets of nearly 6 billion people in every corner of the planet.


Why is it so popular? Why is it so simple to master? It might have something to do with a letter order every toddler learns in kindergarten. Why, it’s as easy as A B C!

Time to go back to kindergarten, professors.


Filed under History, Innovation, Interfaces, Mobile, Usability

The Dirt on QWERTY, Part 4: Revolution and that old chestnut

The next wave of typing innovation was a tsunami. The innovation that was word processing exploded to become the personal computing revolution.

Revolution While early adopters purchased personal computers during the 1970’s, it was not until the 1980’s that the revolution really began. In 1981 the IBM PC Home Computer hit the scene, followed three years later by Apple Macintosh computer. By 1983 12.6 million people owned personal computers, and by 1990 that figure had exploded to over 100 million.

The functionality of personal computers far out-stripped their word processor for-runners. PCs had a memory in which files could be saved and edited later. They also presented larger screens that enabled far superior editing capability.

It was correctly predicted that PCs would change our approach to just about every endeavour.

As the century rolled to a close, the vision of the personal computer – a computer for every home – was coming to fruition. By the year 2000, a staggering 500 million people owned personal computers, and sales continued to increase exponentially, hitting one billion in 2002.

You say you want a revolution

Of course each one of this great profusion of computers required an input device. Lamentably, once again, the QWERTY keyboard snuck through the checkpoint as the default, without revision. Yes, dear flabbergasted reader….THAT old chestnut.

Again, the first to adopt desktop computers were those in industry and business, and the first to operate them were those very same professional typists of former years.

However, over the years, an increasing proportion of sales were to people for home use. The less tech-savvy of new users were presented with a gargantuan learning curve. Not only was it incumbent upon them to get their heads around how computers work, but they faced the daunting task of becoming proficient on the nonsensical QWERTY system.

Surely the emergence of this huge new market would prompt the revision of the out-dated and unnecessary QWERTY system, wouldn’t you think dear reader?

Will the personal computing revolution slay QWERTY? Find out in The Dirt on QWERTY: Part 5: One step forwards, two steps back.

The Dirt on QWERTY, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8.


Filed under History, Innovation, Usability