QWERTY phones: Thumbs-up or down?

Moderated by Larry Dignan | August 5, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: QWERTY phones historically have been seen as devices for real work and productivity. Does that case still hold?

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes




Matthew Miller

Matthew Miller

Best Argument: Thumbs-up


Audience Favored: Thumbs-up (80%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

QWERTY for the foreseeable future

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes: Following its introduction in 1873, QWERTY became the most popular keyboard layout. While it was designed to prevent typewriter typebars from jamming, its longevity beyond the mechanical typewriter was guaranteed when it was adopted as the layout for computer keyboards.

Although there are undoubtedly better systems that QWERTY available, ranging from different layouts to swipe systems to voice control, the advantage that QWERTY has over the competition is that it is ubiquitous, and almost anyone with even a passing familiarity with a computer can pick up the smartphone or tablet and start using it.

While QWERTY might be considered by some to be old, slow and inefficient, no other system can boast this level of usability, and this is why it migrated beyond the keyboard and into cutting-edge post-PC devices such as smartphones and tablets. And this guarantees that we will be seeing – and interacting with – QWERTY for the foreseeable future.

More efficient methods for text entry available

Matthew Miller: My smartphone life began with the Danger Hiptop (aka T-Mobile Sidekick) back in 2002 and I was hooked on hardware QWERTY keyboards ever since. I progressed through Palm Treos and Pres, BlackBerrys, various HTC devices, and more in my desire to always find and use devices with physical keyboards. I have now given up that lengthy affair and find no reason to go back.

The only high end smartphone today with a QWERTY is the new BlackBerry Q10, admittedly one of the best QWERTY devices ever made. However, you give up viewable display area and the ability to use advanced software keyboards while adding another hardware failure point.

QWERTY was designed for two-handed PC keyboards and is not a system optimized for the mobile phone. There are more efficient methods for text entry available today, such as Swype on Android, and the predictive keyboards today mean many people don't even tap on all the letters in words they enter on their phones.

Efficient QWERTY usage also requires two hands while software keyboards work well with one thumb or finger tapping or sliding away on the display. Folks, put your thumbs down and slide that index finger across your screen.


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  • QWERTY is the layout of the keys . . .

    "While QWERTY might be considered by some to be old, slow and inefficient,"

    Mostly because "slow and inefficient" is easy to say. Most of this appears to boil down to personal preference and the cost of re-training to use a new system.

    Although I have my doubts that sliding a single finger could actually be faster than touch typing, which many people can actually do very quickly.

    That being said, we're talking about phones here, and QWERTY is admittedly a bit clumsy on a small form factor. But different people have different hands, so your mileage may vary.

    "QWERTY was designed for two-handed PC keyboards and is not a system optimized for the mobile phone."

    Actually, that's false. QWERTY was not designed for the PC. It's far older than that: It was designed for typewriters.

    The fact that smart phones still use the format is a testament to how solid the design actually is. Even though alternatives to it were invented because the jamming problem doesn't exist in PCs or smart phones, alternative layouts only offered marginal benefits and the cost of re-training touch typists to use the new layouts was (and still is) too high.

    "The only high end smartphone today with a QWERTY is the new BlackBerry Q10"

    Well, even though the keyboard on most phones is on-screen rather than physical - it's still QWERTY.

    QWERTY is the layout of the keys, not a catch-phrase meant to mean "physical keyboard." A software-based keyboard can certainly use a QWERTY layout, and most do.

    Which actually makes the title for this article somewhat misleading :/.
    Reply 5 Votes I'm Undecided
    • I prefer QWERTY myself

      'cause using it, i can type as fast as i can make mistakes.
      Not so with any other layout. But that's me.
      I don't know, but i suspect that some schools are teaching alternative layouts along with QWERTY, and I'm betting that that QWERTY will slowly fade out of the picture as us stick-in-the-muds die off.
      Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
      • Didn't really happen.

        "and I'm betting that that QWERTY will slowly fade out of the picture as us stick-in-the-muds die off."

        There's been plenty of chances for this to happen (as I said - as old as the typewriter) - but it didn't really happen.

        Kids are still being trained to use QWERTY at an early age. So as old people die off, new youngsters are still learning it. Which makes sense, since nearly all devices use the layout. But that does mean it's essentially self-perpetuating.

        I'm not really seeing any schools teach the alternative layouts. They may mention other layouts to make students aware of them, but since QWERTY is so much the standard that you can't really work without using it, they have to teach QWERTY.
        Reply Vote I'm Undecided
    • My wife has long fingernails

      So in her case a physical keyboard is better. Matt Miller is a Microsoft MVP, and an"Invited member of Microsoft's mobile Evangelists", So for him Microsoft's decision will always be best. It comes down to the best tool, or Matt's personal Bias.
      Troll Hunter J
      Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
    • the title for this article somewhat misleading

      i agree with CobraA1. however, swiping on a qwerty layout is still not using a qwerty keyboard...your only using a few letters, and by the time you see the word you want to spell, you could have already spelled it and moved on....just because the letters are arranged the same, does not always mean the keyboard is as useful as the alternative methods, swipe is designed to skip less used letters based on the direction your fingers are going (if the word is in your dictionary, otherwise you still have to spell out the whole word). its not truely based on the qwerty definition. they just simply have the same letters in the same places for familiarity to the user. the idea behind the qwerty keyboard in the first place was to place the keys that are used most frequently in a specific order for ease on the fingers while typing, thus no other layout has been as successful. the qwerty was designed scientifically and comfortably without loss of thought for what your typing. there is a reason why it has been used for this long. the only other system thats faster is the court typing systems. and that takes many years to master for the expert typer, being lazy is not an excuse to switch to another keyboard on your smart device.
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • DOWN

    Get Rid of Donald Trumps Ugly face from "You May Also Like"
    Reply 4 Votes I'm for Thumbs-down
  • I am a thumbs-up on this one!

    I truly miss the physical keyboard of my old BlackBerry - but, as Matthew points out, the cost in smartphone screen real estate is just too high. Today I'd have a slide-out keyboard if anyone made one running Windows Phone.

    Only one device actually has a full-QWERTY keyboard option available. That is the Surface tablet. And, of course, any device which runs Windows 8/RT.

    Having a full-QWERTY keyboard means that all of the numbers are available as well as the most common special characters - and they are all available from a single SHIFT key. All other on-screen keyboards which I have encountered require THREE shift keys and often they don't even indicate whether they are shifting from lower to upper case (or vice-versa) for letters.

    As for the QWERTY layout itself ...

    YES, we all know that it came about to keep physical keys from colliding with each other. This enabled improved typing speeds - and, of course, this is no longer an issue ...

    ... but consider this. Every high school graduate has seen a QWERTY keyboard layout. Even if you never took a typing class - or learned the proper finger placement - it is very easy to learn (almost instinctively) the location of every key in the QWERTY layout.

    OF COURSE ... you could just as easily learn to use any other keyboard layout but if you are already familiar with QWERTY, why switch?

    Once learned, any keyboard layout which minimizes the number of shifts which must be performed will be as good as any other (hence my preference for a full-QWERTY layout with which only one SHIFT key required).

    In short, IF IT AIN'T BROKE, DON'T FIX IT!
    M Wagner
    Reply 3 Votes I'm for Thumbs-up
    • Not Really

      Using a Qwerty keyboard is not instinctual. Any professional typing teacher can tell you this. Picking up a mouse and using it is instinctual because you can pick it up and instantly use it. Tell a 5 year old to put his hands on a Qwerty keyboard and start typing right away. It ain't gonna happen. It takes time to learn to type there's no getting around it.
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • Nothing about the written word is instinctual

        Learning to use one keyboard or another is arbitrary and, in an electronic age, which layout is of no consequence to the user. That said, the QWERTY layout is ubiquitous. Once trained (since childhood) to use one layout or another switching is difficult - very difficult!

        Adrian's point is that the momentum for QWERTY is over a century old and no other layout among those associated with the Roman alphabet (such as the DVORAK layout) has caught-on. The only way to change that is for someone to introduce a new layout to users (as an option) and monitor the conversion rates.

        There is no right or wrong answer. Just momentum for the status quo.
        M Wagner
        Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • Smartphones for 5 years old children

        Its a very good argument. Lets make phone por 5 years old children, and cars with no break ¿what do a Child want a Break for?

        I gonna vote for Thums-up understandind that yoy mean with hardware keyboard with minimun 5 rows with separate row for numbers (very important).
        Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided