Sunday, January 30, 2005


If there is one technology that is going to bring howls of laughter from people in the future, it is going to be the keyboard. Talk about sad!

Since we use keyboards all day every day and take them completely for granted, it is hard for us to really see how primitive keybards are. But just think about it. You have a thought in your head. You have to emit that thought one letter at a time through your fingers onto an array of buttons. And those buttons have been arranged through the QWERTY layout to be as inefficient as possible. It's nuts!

Even sadder are the little thumb keyboards that you find on some cell phones, PDAs and portable email appliances. All of your thoughts are funneled into your two thumbs. And even worse is the idea of sending an SMS message using a standard 12-button cell phone keypad. That goes beyond sad into the realm of insane in terms of inefficiency. The idea that people have to peck out a message with one finger on a keypad where every button is overloaded with 4 or more different characters is ludicrous. We will look back on it as a bad nightmare.

Fortunately we should begin to see the demise of the keyboard sooner rather than later. What, maybe ten years from now dictation software is smart enough to enter the mainstream? Twenty tops? Something like that. The keyboard will be gone for good. We will go to museums like the Smithsonian and see a keyboard in a display case... We will look at it in the same way that we look at chipped stone arrowheads -- primitive in the extreme.



At 8:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

QWERTY's "slow down the user" and "inefficient as possible" is a myth. Altho it may not have been the most optimal layout, it was meant to prevent the type bars from jamming. How it did this was to place letters typed next to each other on different sides of the keyboard. This actually ended up having the effect of improving typing speed! Alternative keyboarding schemes may be better in other ways, such as reducing the unbalanced load between the hands and the heavy top row bias, but they have only shown to be marginally better because of the accidental side effect that alternating hand sequences make for faster typing.

In the end however, keyboards (regardless the layout) are a sad sad tech. I'm not sure voice communication is better, but something has to be!

At 2:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This article is pretty funny:

Blackberry use 'can damage thumb'

Trendy handheld Blackberry devices could cause damage to users' thumbs, doctors are warning.... US and UK doctors said repetitive use could cause arthritis or harm tendons in the thumb.

At 3:56 PM, Blogger John Peterson said...

Actually, modern dictation systems (at least the high end ones) are pretty good. The real issues are social/enviromental ones. If you're sitting in a coffee shop writing your novel, will you really feel as comfortable speaking it out loud as you would typing it into your laptop? And of course there's some things that are much easier to type than speak, like programming source code.

I think keyboards will be around until the Vertebrane comes to market...

It's interesting to note ubiquitous knowledge of typing has wiped out other skills, such as shorthand dictation. Maybe the real solution is a chord keyboard?

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vertebrane is the answer, for sure.

At 9:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This brings up a point about user interfaces. If you are editing a document, a mouse is a pretty good tool. Doing editing by voice is hard. Yes vertebrane solves it but what about the interim?

At 2:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eh, keyboards will be around for awhile… …for many, dictating into a microphone may be more efficient, but for me (and other dinosaurs :)), a keyboard is the optimal and most efficient manner of writing (if you can type proficiently). I've never been comfortable dictating, always self conscious of how I am sounding…

Other input approaches like visual shape manipulation have been tried and it is a natural fit for some tasks. As a programmer, those things sound nice, but get in the way more than they help. Perhaps in the future we'll manipulate 3-D holographic icons to achieve tasks but keyboards arn't going away anytime soon…

Handwriting recognition and tablet computing probably is going to be the next great leap accepted, but I still can't see sketching with a stencil being faster than banging on a keyboard…

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Rocketmagnet0910 said...

I disagree. I think that keyboards are far more efficient for most computer related tasks: editing text, keyboard shortcuts and video games, the sole exception being typing very long streams of text.

The keyboard is a massive parallel interface driven by your hands. Hands! How good are they? Way better that the voice at least.

Imagine an office, with a hundreds people all yabbering away at their keyboards. You wouldn't be able to hear yourself think.

You turn your head to chat to someone, and find all some of your filenames have changed to "can you get me a latte?"

Imagine trying to play Quake without a keyboard: "left, left! no other left, not that much, move forward". You'd never make it.

Keyboards shortcuts are far faster than clicking on icons, and cause less RSI.

I think that keyboards will be around for a hell of a long time, at least until brain interface units cost less that one dollar, and *everyone* has one.

- Hugo Elias

At 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see the keyboard as broken or sad. Simply put, there is nothing better. Handwriting and voice input (even at 100% accuracy) are far slower than typing or can be depending on your proficiency with a keyboard. A standard keyboard also doesn't have the learning curve cording keyboards.

However, I do believe that there is a sad piece of tech on everyone's desktop and that's the mouse. The mouse is a horribly inefficient means of computer control. For starters, you have to move at least one hand off the keyboard. Then you have push the mouse until the cursor goes where you want. And then move your hand back to the keyboard. The mouse does allow us to work more "visually" and not have to remember hot keys and the like.

The solution? The best solution I've heard about would be eye ball tracking. Basically, it tracks where the user is looking on the screen and moves the cursor there. If the cursor floats over a menu (for example) then the menu will open. For other mouse clicking functionality, two or more buttons could be put just below the space button on the keyboard.

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