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THOUGHT: How usable are QWERTY Keyboards for one-hand use?
Posted by Arne Hess - on Tuesday, 09.10.07 - 13:57:31 CET under 09 - Thoughts - Viewed 19122x
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No question, since RIM's introduction of the BlackBerry, QWERTY keyboards became quite popular, doesn't matter if these are slide-out keyboards like used with the HTC TyTN and TyTN II, or if these are thumb-keyboards like used with the Palm Treo 750 or Samsung BlackJack or if these are SureType-kind of keyboards like used with the HTC Touch Dual or the T-Mobile Juno. All these keyboards have one common - a kind of classical typewriter keyboard layout and it seems, the regular mobile phone keypad is slowly falling into oblivion.

No question, the classic mobile phone keypad was kind of inconvenient to use for entering texts but everything changed with the introduction of T9 (predictive text) in the late 90's of the last century. No more need of multi-tapping but with single taps, it was possible to enter texts on mobile phones, similar to the QWERTY layout keyboards which also requires single-tap only.

Now I'm using QWERTY keyboard Windows Mobile phones for roughly a year or so and everything started with the Samsung SGH-i320. When I tried the O2 Xda cosmo before, I didn't get used to it but when I got the i320 I thought I should finally try it myself to get a better understanding how well QWERTY keyboard for mobile phones works. Sure, I've used keyboards before with my HTC Universal and HTC Hermes but these were Pocket PCs which I'm using for text entry anyway. So for some reasons it was something different to use a keyboard on a Pocket PC smartphone than using it with a mobile phone.

However, since I've really started to use thumb-keyboard smartphones, I don't want to miss it anymore. And after the i320 I've upgraded to the Samsung SGH-i600, basically the same keyboard layout but now with UMTS/HSDPA. Until yesterday, I've used the Palm Treo 500v Windows Mobile Standard smartphone, again with a thumb-keyboard and at the moment I'm trialing the O2 Xda star with this new SureType kind of keyboard, which is a modified QWERTY layout on a 4 row 5 column keypad, with a predictive input algorithm. While typing on a SureType keyboard is different from typing on thumb-keyboard keyboards, it's way closer to thumb-keyboards than to regular mobile phone keypads.

Anyway, since the first day I've used the Samsung i320 I cannot manage to write longer texts with just one hand only, as I did before with standard mobile phone keypads but basically I need both hands. I have a real problem to find letters on the left side of the keyboard, if I'm using my right hand only. It's interesting to see how the brain has structures and how QWERT, ASDFG and ZXCVB are assigned to the left hand but not to the right hand.
As a matter of fact, I'm always using two hands if I write SMS or MMS messages or reply to E-Mails. Sure, a short text just with two or three words, I can type with my right hand only, but a full 160 character SMS is nearly impossible to write with one hand only, if I use a QWERTY-layout keyboard.

Funny enough, I'm not alone. I've just spoken with colleagues and friends and the faced the same problem. All of them are long time mobile phone users and heavy messenger but not one of them said that they are using QWERTY-kind of keyboards with one hand only but all of them confirmed that they are using two hands as well.

As a bottom-line I think that, as much as the QWERTY keyboard improved the overall messaging experience, as much it took away some convenience - for instance being able to enter texts while walking or while standing in a subway, where you better hold with one hand the handhold while typing with the other hand.

So how about you, if you are using a QWERTY-kind of keyboard as well, do you use it single-hand or do you need/use both hands as well?

Cheers ~ Arne


Related Articles THOUGHT:

Posted by Thomas C. on 09.10.07 - 15:29:30

Arne, I agree. I have a K800i and a BlackBerry and with the K800i I can type text messages faster than using my BlackBerry with one hand only. Never thought about it but you are right, for entering texts, I'm also using both hands.

Posted by Joe V on 09.10.07 - 18:32:57

This is an ironic article the sense that people are so accustom to a QWERTY keyboard that they are beyond using another input method. Here’s the problem, the QWERTY keyboard layout was designed to be used with two hands and 10 fingers. Taking this same keyboard and putting it on a cell phone gives us the same layout but allows us to use just two thumbs at most. For an input designed for ten fingers, it doesn’t leave us with a very effective input method with two hands or one hand.

Now let’s compare the Blackberry style QWERTY keyboards to the HTC long style QWERTY keyboard. Blackberry, while realizing people are accustom to the QWERTY keyboard and probably not having the ability to think outside the box while developing the first BlackBerry keyboard, at least had the sense to realize that the shorter distance between keys would make for faster typing with two thumbs, as well as providing less strain on the hands. This is not the case with the HTC’s method, the longer keyboard while looks just like your desktop keyboard, isn’t as quick to use with two thumbs let alone one. Yet people still insist they can’t live without it because it’s just like their desktop keyboard which they are used too.

Companies and people need to start thinking outside the box and realize that an input method needs to be used that works will with one or two thumbs. T9 was a step in the right direction, while not perfect, it allowed for quick entry on a small pad with a limited number of keys. Sure Type is an even better solution; I’ve been able to achieve very fast typing speeds using two thumbs on a Blackberry Pearl. It’s too bad HTC didn’t make the new Touch Device with SureType Quadband but that’s another gripe since I live in North America  : )

The QWERTY layout just work for a small device where you are limited to using just two thumbs. People need to realize that and companies need to start developing better methods. Even if someone was deadest on having each letter on a separate key, there are better ways to do it. Even switching the keyboard layout around and using all the keys can result in faster and better input. Take for example the Fatily keybard, the developer of this great program was able to think outside the box and realize that someone would be typing with a stylus. The result was a keyboard that could be used at 50 words a minute with one stylus. Now a hardware version of that layout, 40 words a minute with one thumb or even faster with the use of both thumbs.

I could go on, but this would make for a better article and debate for Unwired readers smile

Posted by Guy Adams on 10.10.07 - 11:42:46

...enter the HTC S710 or S730 with both number pad and full slide out qwerty keyboard.

I currently own a S710 and love having the choice of both. I no long think I could shift from the slide out keyboard, candy bar form factor.

If its a quick text, the number pad is perfect for one hand operation, if its an email, letter or document, slide out keyboard.


Posted by Arne Hess on 10.10.07 - 12:43:18

Guy Adams wrote:

...enter the HTC S710 or S730 with both number pad and full slide out qwerty keyboard.

Yep, the S710/S730 could be the best compromise since I would love to use the traditional phone pad for SMS (blind one hand use) and using the slide-out keyboard for longer texts where I'm happy to use two thumbs...

Posted by karl cole on 10.10.07 - 17:01:03

The best of both worlds exists here:

Posted by Arne Hess on 10.10.07 - 17:27:29

Interesting but this brings me back to my initial question how much you can use QWERTY-kind keyboards with one hand only and this looks like you better use both hands as well.
Otherwise, it looks quite similar to the BlackJack, etc. keyboard...

IMHO the best of both worlds yet is the S710/S730...

Posted by karl cole on 11.10.07 - 00:36:59

Any keypad will be faster if you use both hands instead of one.  What hasn't existed until the above mentioned Delta keypad is a keypad that does both well.  Two-handed QWERTY keypads have always been either too wide for single-hand operation, or had buttons so tiny that they offered poor visual (tiny letters) and tactile comfort. (Blackjack, Motorola Q, Treo 600/650, etc.) The Delta keypad seems to solve both of these problems, and is also unambiguous - it does not guess at words.  I did quite well on the online demo and would like to try a real one.

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