Dvorak, my favorite keyboard layout, has greatly improved my life in the regular full-sized keyboard world. I wish it were easier to do in the handheld world. Certainly not right now, but maybe soon enough.

I recently picked up some free stuff while side-of-the-road dumpster diving. One item was a PDA/phone from 2005. It’s worth about $120 today. I was just playing with it this morning, touching the keyboard and my thumbs immediately started typing Dvorak-style despite the QWERTY buttons. I quickly realized that I could be extremely effective at touch typing with only my thumbs and Dvorak, probably more-so than I, or anyone else, could be with QWERTY. Because of the closeness of the most common key combinations it is much easier to touch-type on what would normally be a hunt-and-peck scenario, even for seasoned handheld users. The reason being: Dvorak key combos are so close to each other that you can feel-out your position just like you would do on a regular full-sized keyboard. QWERTY, on the other hand, has alternating thumb combinations with letters far away from each other, forcing you into a hunt-and-peck methodology.

While one can certainly become fluent with a QWERTY layout on a thumb-keyboard enough to touch type, he will not be able to do it as readily as he could with Dvorak.

Some other observations:

  1. OLED Keyboards and other technologies - The Optimus keyboard allows you to change the text that appears on each key because they are OLED-backed. Not sure if this can be squeezed down to handheld-sized keys, but that would certainly help cross-language, cross-keyboard-layout issues in the handheld world.
  2. Dvorak alternate layouts - Dvorak is well known for its single handed versions. I’ve heard of people doing 50wpm+ using only one hand (better than what many can do with two hands). It may make sense to adopt a single-handed layout to phones, PDAs and other handheld devices that increases efficiency. Here’s a QWERTY concept device.
  3. On screen keyboards - On-screens will (or should) obviously allow you to switch keyboard layouts with ease. The unfortunate thing with these is that most do not offer any tactile feedback (unless the screen is pressable). This would greatly reduce one’s efficacy with thumb-rolling key-combos in Dvorak because you will often skip-roll over a key. On a tactile-keyboard this isn’t an issue, but on an on-screen non-tactile keyboard you would hit the key you wanted to just roll over.

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