Hi! My name is Daniel Lim Jhao Jian. Here is where I share my experience, knowledge and ideas. You are welcome to leave comments and follow my blog. You are free to copy anything from this blog. Please recommend this blog to your friends.

Tuesday 25 October 2022

The Dvorak keyboard layout

Anyone who has ever borrowed my phone would have noticed something strange: The touch screen keyboard of my phone appears to be all jumbled up!

Everyone who had used my phone had found it very difficult to type using the keyboard, and what I would do every time is to change the keyboard to the standard QWERTY layout so that they could type normally.

So, why does my phone have such a jumbled up keyboard? You may think that it's due to some kind of a software error. In reality though, I intentionally set up my phone's keyboard like that, and that's what I use every day.

It's known as the Dvorak keyboard layout. The arrangement of the keys in this layout is very different from the standard QWERTY layout which everyone is familiar with. While far less popular than the QWERTY layout, the Dvorak layout is actually better.

Have you ever wondered why the keys on a keyboard are not arranged in alphabetical order from A to Z?

Before computers were invented, keyboards were first used on typewriters. In the beginning, the keys on keyboards were indeed arranged from A to Z, and such a layout enabled users to type very fast. While that might seem to be a good thing, the issue was that back in those days, the keys on typewriters would easily get jammed when typing was done too fast. Jammed keys was a huge annoyance as it would disrupt typing.

To help prevent the keys from getting jammed, the typing speed had to be reduced. To achieve that, the QWERTY keyboard layout was invented. In the QWERTY layout, commonly used letters are placed away from the centre of the keyboard and common combinations of letters are placed further apart from each other. That made typing significantly slower.

The QWERTY layout increased the efficiency of typing on typewriters, because although the typing speed was reduced, the occurrence of jammed keys was also greatly decreased. The QWERTY layout quickly gained popularity across the world, and nearly all typewriters adopted it.

When computers were later invented, the manufacturers simply used the QWERTY keyboard layout because of its popularity. However, unlike typewriters, jammed keys doesn't occur on computer keyboards. On computers, the faster the typing, the better it is. Therefore, the QWERTY layout actually confers no advantage on computers.

Because of that, the Dvorak keyboard layout was invented. In the Dvorak layout, most commonly used letters are placed in the middle row and all vowels are placed on the left side of the keyboard. This layout aims to reduce the movement of fingers and maximise the successive use of both hands when typing.

The end result is that the Dvorak layout not only speeds up typing, but also makes it less tiring for the fingers. Studies have shown that for someone who is new to typing, it's easier to train typing with the Dvorak layout.

While the Dvorak keyboard layout has advantages over the QWERTY layout, the Dvorak layout failed to gain widespread adoption. As a matter of fact, most people have gotten used to the QWERTY layout and are not keen on changing. Consequently, computer manufacturers continue to make keyboards with the QWERTY layout.

Very few people use the Dvorak layout nowadays. However, most computer operating systems do support the Dvorak keyboard layout.

I first came to know about the Dvorak keyboard layout in 2009. Since then, I have been interested to use it. It doesn't matter to me that the Dvorak layout has very few users. Instead, the most important thing is the fact that the Dvorak layout makes typing faster and less tiring. Although I could type very well using the QWERTY layout, I still wanted something better.

However, I didn't have a keyboard with Dvorak layout and it's very difficult to get one. There were suggestions on the Internet to manually remove the keys on a keyboard and rearrange them in the Dvorak layout. However, the keys on my laptop's keyboard are not designed to be removable, attempts to remove them would damage the keyboard.

It's possible to use stickers to relabel the keys on a keyboard. However, I didn't want to do that as it would make my keyboard look really weird. Another alternative would be to memorise the Dvorak layout, but that was too challenging for me. Consequently, I gave up on the idea of using the Dvorak layout.

Many years later in 2016, I discovered by chance that the touch screen keyboard powered by Gboard on my Android phone does support the Dvorak keyboard layout. That rekindled my interest in the Dvorak layout. I started using the Dvorak layout on my phone at that time.

Using the Dvorak layout was quite challenging for me initially. Being used to the QWERTY layout, I had to relearn the Dvorak layout from scratch. I struggled to find the locations of each key and that slowed down my typing a lot. I also made typing errors quite often. Sometimes, I had to switch back to the QWERTY layout when I needed to type fast.

Apart from my phone, I wanted to use the Dvorak keyboard layout on my iPad as well. Unfortunately, the touch screen keyboard in iOS and iPadOS didn't natively support the Dvorak layout. Still, it's possible to install a 3rd party keyboard app that supports the Dvorak layout on an iPad.

However, all the 3rd party keyboard apps I found had poor design where the keys were either too big or too small and they were quite laggy, which made typing quite inconvenient. None of them could offer the intuitive typing experience of my iPad's default keyboard. Therefore, I soon gave up on using the Dvorak layout on my iPad.

I had use the QWERTY layout on my iPad and on my laptop. Therefore, I had to master both the QWERTY and Dvorak layouts. Despite the challenges, I persevered with using the Dvorak layout on my phone. As time went on, I became more familiar with the layout and I got better at typing with it.

By 2018, I could type using the Dvorak layout at almost the same speed as I could with the QWERTY layout, although I still made typing errors occasionally. That year, Gboard added support for the Dvorak layout on iPhones and iPads. While Gboard on iPad had a much better design compared to other 3rd party keyboard apps, it's still awkward to use compared to the iPad's default keyboard, so I didn't want to use it.

By 2020, I have mastered the Dvorak keyboard layout on my phone. I use it all the time and I prefer it over the QWERTY layout. Meanwhile, I still maintained my proficiency at typing with the QWERTY layout. I was a bit disappointed about not being able to use the Dvorak layout without compromises on my iPad. I always hoped that Apple will add native support for the Dvorak layout on iPhones and iPads.

Now, my wish has finally been granted. The newly released iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 have added native support for the Dvorak keyboard layout. I can now type using the Dvorak layout with the great default keyboard on my iPad. This is surely one of my most favourite features in iPadOS 16.