QWERTY Traveled From Typewriter To iPhone, But Alternative Keyboards Do Exist : All Tech Considered The QWERTY keyboard layout has been around since the 19th century. Aren't there other arrangements better fit for the computer age? They vary from radical changes to slight alterations.
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QWERTY Traveled From Typewriter To iPhone, But Alternative Keyboards Do Exist

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QWERTY Traveled From Typewriter To iPhone, But Alternative Keyboards Do Exist

QWERTY Traveled From Typewriter To iPhone, But Alternative Keyboards Do Exist

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now a footnote to something we discussed recently on All Tech Considered. Harvard professor Calestous Juma came on this program to talk about why we sometimes hold on to outdated technology, even when there are newer, better ways of completing the same tasks. I asked him for a good example, and he said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

CALESTOUS JUMA: I think the typewriter keyboard for me is the one that is most amazing. The keys were designed specifically to slow down the speed of typing because the other typewriters are not that efficient. But it has become very difficult to change the keyboard and adopt a different setup.

CORNISH: And with this you're referring to the QWERTY system, where it's not in alphabetical order or anything like that.

JUMA: Exactly, because there are more efficient ways of arranging the letters.

CORNISH: Well, we went off to find those more efficient arrangements and found this expert.

MATT KLEIN: My name is Matt Klein. I'm a staff writer with howtogeek.com.

CORNISH: Klein says there are several keyboard layouts that claim to be faster and more ergonomic than the old-fashioned QWERTY. Now bear with us because some of this might sound like alphabet soup. First, there's the Dvorak.

KLEIN: It places 70 percent of the most commonly used letters on the home row.

CORNISH: That's the middle row. The vowels are all on the left side and key consonants like S are on the right. Next, the Colemak.

KLEIN: The Colemak layout actually places the most frequently used letters under the strongest fingers - not on the home row, but under the strongest fingers.

CORNISH: Those would be the middle fingers, and you can find the S and E within easy reach. Now, the Dvorak and Colemak basically look like standard keyboards, just with the characters on different keys. And if you want to try them out, it's usually as easy as changing a setting on your computer. The not-so-easy part is learning the new configurations. You can put stickers on your keys to help.

Matt Klein says there's another option, but it'll cost you, the Maltron. Klein explains it's a special keyboard that runs at least $500.

KLEIN: It divides the layout into these squared areas. So for example the left hand has its own keyboard square, while the right gets its own square. The overall aim is to allow you to type more complete words with minimal movement than with QWERTY.

CORNISH: Klein says these alternatives might make it a little bit faster and easier to type, not that he's willing to make the change.

KLEIN: They have a rather steep learning curve, and I find that learning a new layout is quite time-consuming. I really can't afford to slow down to learn a new one, and it really actually took me quite a while to really master QWERTY.

CORNISH: Besides, he says there's not really a point to learning a new system. In the future, there may not even be keyboards, just touch screens and computer-aided dictation. Swipes, gestures, words might be all we need, but nothing beats this sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYPEWRITER KEYS)

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