Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Dirt on QWERTY, Part 5: One step forwards, two steps back

As the century grew long in the tooth the market for personal computers continued to boom and companies were competing for a stake in the goldmine. Silicon Valley was abuzz with creativity, as developers desperately sought to originate ‘the next big thing’ in order to secure the greatest market share.

Can you guess what happens next, dear reader?


One step forward

Among the innumerable technological improvements of the PC shone one innovation that most significantly impacted the market. That innovation solved a fundamental problem for users, offering a whole new possibility. That innovation afforded mobility.

Although personal computers had become extremely functional, they were somewhat bulky. They comprised of at least three parts (the CPU, the sizable CRT monitor and the keyboard) connected together by a tangle of wires. It was very much the case that once set up, these devices stayed put.

Early so-called portable computers claimed mobility; however, ‘mobility’ is a word that could only be euphemistically applied to these machines that could more aptly be described as ‘luggable’. One was not likely to transport such a device to a local café to catch up on emails over a latte.

As technology evolved during the 1990s and laptops became truly portable and affordable, their popularity increased dramatically, heralding a boon for business people, students and coffee vendors.


Two steps back

Despite the ground-breaking innovation, input was still dependent on (you guessed it, dear psychic reader) the seemingly immortal QWERTY keyboard. So QWERTY got through the wires again. So far, with each leap in technological advancement, few sought alternatives to the glaring design fail that was the QWERTY keyboard.

But wait…things got duller still…

As well as navigating the keyboard, the user had another modus operandi – mousing. At first, the mouse buttons were placed below the space bar. Later the integration of the mouse function became the TrackPoint, or so-called mouse nipple, which was commonly placed at the centre of the QWERTY keyboard. This configuration required the user to flit between pointing and clicking, and typing, making the user experience somewhat tedious.


Modern day laptops most commonly fulfil the mousing function by way of a track pad. While simpler to use than the TrackPoint, the mechanism is still bothersome to use – bother on top of the vexation of the unintuitive, random letter order of the QWERTY keyboard.

In fact, with further development of the keyboard, things got more complicated as more buttons and functions were added. The caps lock key, for example, was poorly placed next to the third most commonly struck letter in the keyboard – the letter A. Users found themselves SHOUTING AT PEOPLE ACCIDENTALLY UNTIL THEY REALISED THE CAPS LOCK KEY WAS ON.


Find out, in The Dirt on QWERTY: Part 6: Mobile phones and rocket science.

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