Typing Isn't All Fingers, It's Thumbs

By Kristensson, Per Ola | The World Today, June/July 2013 | Go to article overview

Typing Isn't All Fingers, It's Thumbs


Kristensson, Per Ola, The World Today


Per Ola Kristensson on how KALQ could soon be replacing QWERTY

The QWERTY keyboard we have installed on our laptops, phones and tablets was designed more than 140 years ago. It was invented to solve a common problem: the tendency of the keys on mechanical typewriters to jam.

A typewriter in the 1860s worked like a piano: when a key was pressed, a hammer fell down and made an imprint on the paper. If nearby keys were hit in close succession, there was a risk the hammers got stuck. The QWERTY layout minimized this risk by distributing frequent letter-key pairs to the left and right hand side of the typewriter.

Ten-finger touch typing was invented years after the design of QWERTY. However, by sheer coincident the key distribution turned out to be efficient for ten-finger touch-typing. While QWERTY certainly can be improved, for most users it is not worth the effort to learn another keyboard layout for touch-typing.

Given users' familiarity, a natural solution to the text input problem on mobile phones and tablets was to transplant QWERTY to touchscreen devices. However, while it is reasonably efficient for ten-finger touch-typing on full-sized keyboards, it is not for two- thumb typing on touchscreen tablets and large mobile phones.

To find out how much QWERTY could be improved for thumb typing we set out to design a new keyboard layout. Our new keyboard layout, KALQ, used three different strategies to improve thumb typing.

The first strategy was to change the grip. We empirically investigated six different possible grips and identified the most ergonomie and efficient suitable for thumb typing. The anatomical constraints of the thumb when using this particular grip was then factored in when designing the overall shape of the layout.

The second strategy was to design around the use of both thumbs. When one thumb is selecting a key the second thumb should not be idle. Instead, it should already be making its way to the next key. …

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Typing Isn't All Fingers, It's Thumbs
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