Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Dirt on QWERTY, Part 8: Touchscreen Terror

Well, well, well, here we are in the 21st century, dear hip-happening-and-now reader. We’ve been through a lot of changes over the decades, to say the least – we even survived the Y2K apocalypse (which could only be described as disappointing).

TouchscreenTerror The first decade of the century has seen the most rapid rate of technological development in known history. We in the west are availed of a veritable cornucopia of technological gadgetry. We have seen the personal computing revolution, the text revolution, the social media revolution and we now enjoy/are burdened with constant connectivity. We are able to communicate with our friends, loved ones, colleagues and indeed people across the planet via devices that fit into our pockets – anywhere, anytime. It’s really quite incredible.

Smart phone technology has prompted the manifestation of a multitude of apps that assist us with a plethora of endeavours. We can message, chat, share images, play games, navigate, research and be assisted with a squillion other tasks all on our handheld devices and a seemingly endless choice of software.

The elephant in the corner

So, the kicker is, dear reader, that a little sumthin has been overlooked…

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All of these functions require TEXT INPUT, and while hardware and software has advanced mind-bogglingly, our text input systems have not. Still we endure the millstone of obsolete technology – the QWERTY keyboard. It’s embarrassing.

As we discovered in The dirt on QWERTY, part 1, the QWERTY keyboard originated 140 years ago as a solution to a mechanical problem associated with the archaic device called the typewriter. Yet the 14 decades since have brought us more technological advancements than you could poke a Wii stick at. Our devices are no longer mechanical. We have graduated from physical buttons and keys to touch screen technology.

In its original form, the typewriter, the QWERTY keyboard was operated with two hands/10 digits and the keys were sized and spaced suitably – the whole keyboard measuring about 30 centimetres in length. Yet the same keyboard has been oddly migrated to touchscreen technology, squishing the keyboard into an area less than a third of the original size.

Funnily enough, the human hand has not conveniently shrunk to accommodate this occurrence. Evolution, it would seem, has not kept up with technological advancement.

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So, along with the litany of previous infractions (such as the ridiculous order of letters and the incumbent learning curve) QWERTY now confronts us with another affront to usability – the scale of the keyboard on touchscreen devices. The keys are significantly smaller than the average adult fingertip and are packed into a tiny space 10 keys across. It is such that one stands a greater chance of hitting the wrong key than the one one intended. Let’s face it, one need not possess a PhD in ergonomics to conclude that the situation sucks from a usability perspective.

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So, dear enlightened and judicious reader, as our tale of well over a century collides with the current day, I ask you: QWERTY – WTF?

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Fancy a ripping yarn? Read The Dirt on QWERTY series from Part 1.

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

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Filed under History, Innovation, Usability