Most annoying Windows 8 trait: Double keyboards

Most annoying Windows 8 trait: Double keyboards

Summary: Microsoft decided to make Windows 8 fit the entire spectrum of computing devices, from desktops to touch tablets. The more I use it, the more I like it, but there is one thing it does that is totally annoying.

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Windows 8 is an OS that covers a lot of ground in the mobile space. It is typical Windows when used on desktop systems, yet it handles touch operation that is appearing on laptops, tablets, and hybrids. One such hybrid that I've been using since picking one up at a good price is the HP Envy x2.

Double keyboard
(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

The more I use the Envy x2, the more impressed I am with its versatility. I can use it as a full laptop with the additional benefit of a touchscreen, or I can use it as a touch tablet. It handles both duties equally well while delivering an impressive 14+ hours of battery life.

As good as it is, there is one trait built into Windows 8 that drives me batty while using the Envy x2. Microsoft puts a software keyboard in Windows 8 to handle those times when using a touch tablet. The keyboard pops up on the screen, taking up quite a lot of it, to facilitate text entry when no physical keyboard is present.

This soft keyboard works well; it's not the best on mobile devices but it's quite functional. But the way Microsoft has implemented it on hybrid systems is fundamentally flawed.

Look at the image above, and you see what I mean. For the soft keyboard to work properly, it must never, ever pop up when the PC has a physical keyboard attached. There is never a need for the onscreen keyboard when a nice, physical one is sitting right there under the user's hands.

The problem is that when the user touches the screen to activate a control requiring text input, the onscreen keyboard pops up. It takes over half the screen, and either covers up the app display or resizes it to fit around the onscreen keyboard.

If the user taps the same control using the mouse, Windows 8 is intelligent enough to know not to show the virtual keyboard. It operates totally differently than the touch operation, which is inconsistent for the user.

This is a jarring user experience (UX) every time it happens. The OS suddenly takes over most of the screen by popping up a virtual keyboard you don't need or want. Sure, it disappears when you start typing on the physical keyboard, but after taking over the screen. The disappearing keyboard then either causes the app display to redraw without the keyboard, or worse, leaves the app windows squished up as if the onscreen keyboard was still present. Things are popping on and off the screen needlessly, taking attention away from the task at hand.

Microsoft wants to see folks using Windows 8 on all sorts of devices, including these hybrids, so it needs to address this ASAP. It's ugly, interruptive, and should never happen. Windows 8 can surely sense when a physical keyboard is attached, so turn off the software keyboard.

Update: This annoying trait may be caused by the HP drivers for the keyboard. I've heard from some who claim their different hybrid doesn't exhibit this trait, and others who do. In my opinion, the OS should be responsible for preventing a glaring UX issue like this, and I believe Microsoft should not allow the drivers to do this if that's the case.

Topics: Mobility, Laptops, Tablets, Windows 8

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98 comments
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  • think u have an issue

    Never happens on Surface... Have u checked for driver updates? I'm also pretty sure this doesn't happen on the Yoga.
    bc3tech
    • happens on multiple devices

      In addition to the Envy, I'm told it happens on other devices too. The ATIV in particular.
      JamesKendrick
      • I've not seen the issue on the Surface

        with those that I've seen using it, but we are looking at the HP Envy for certain employees, so it's something to check into to see if it's device specific, or just a driver issue as some had suggested.

        Thanks for mentioning this!
        William Farrel
        • Doesn't happen on my Surface RT

          I PROMISE this doesn't happen on my Surface RT. I'm pretty sure it is an HP driver support issue.
          Jabe124
      • "told" it is happening on other devices too?

        Why not be specific about these claims?

        Anyhow, I bought my Envy X2 the same time you did and I have never had this problem. Never had it happen on my Lenovo Yoga13 either.

        I suggest you open the HP Support Assistant tool and manually update the driver through that. That was what I did the first week I had mine and I had to have it retry one of the bios updates. After that it did several other updates and has been great ever since.


        Lastly to your claims that Microsoft shouldn't let OEMs release drivers that may have problems... really? Ideally that would be awesome, but asking for flawless software is a lofty goal. You really are asking for some mythical system of perfection in software.

        Apple, Microsoft, etc can't even release updates to their core products that are issue free, so I'm not sure how holding them accountable for OEM software would change anything.
        Emacho
        • The link that mve9302 provided below...

          for a fix mentions Sony and Asus tablets.
          msalzberg
      • It may be remote code execution by the invisible man. :-)

        ...
        Joe.Smetona
        • Then he's a busy guy, Joe.

          I read he's doing the same thing to Linux based tablets, too :-)
          William Farrel
      • I've never had

        This happen on my ativ smart pc (500t).
        Sam Wagner
      • Doesn't happen on theATIV

        I have a Samsung ATIV smart PC. This never happens when docked. If you want to use the keyboard when docked you have to click on the keyboard icon on the left hand side of the taskbar. There are also different keyboard layouts; an option to split the keyboard for thumb typing when holding the tablet; options to fix the keyboard to the bottom half of the screen or to allow it to float over the screen; the ability to scale down the size of the keyboard.
        Wolfgang Karsch
    • Yep totally seems like an oem/driver issue. Never once happened with my

      Surafce. I think the complaint should be directed at hp here and nay other oem that is having this happen on their devices.
      Johnny Vegas
      • Doesn't Windows come with standard keyboard drivers?

        Or does each OEM write their own?

        I use one of these: http://www.digico.biz/docs2/products/SD7T.shtml which comes with a particularly awful keyboard that's hardwired. I asked about it and the manufacturer told me that they stripped all of the keyboard drivers out of Windows except the English one. This leads me to believe that keyboard drivers are part of Windows. Note: This desk runs under XP, so things may be different now.
        msalzberg
    • Happens on the Surface RT....

      ALL the time. Very annoying.
      NickA55
      • I too had this but I fixed it

        Just open the device manager and look for Touch/Type keboard driver and refresh it. And of course take the keyboard out and put it back and it should be good.
        Ram U
        • Fixed It

          That fixed it for me, thanks.
          NickA55
    • exactly. I had this issue with my Surface RT

      and then I went to device manager and checked the driver had an ! mark on it. I refreshed the driver and it is good now.
      Ram U
    • really a piece of crap, very telling of W8 overall quality

      and now we will have the usual crew of apologizers saying that never happens to them, or pretending is a hardware problem.
      theo_durcan
      • Because it is

        Unlike Apple which controls the hardware, Microsoft doesn't. One manufacturer with a few models vs dozens of manufacturers worldwide with thousands of models. Microsoft can't inherently know whether that keyboard is physically accessible (think of all the devices that spin and cover the keyboard). If Microsoft assumed all devices with keyboards shouldnt use the touch screen keyboard people would be up in arms. It is up to the manufacturer to ensure their product works well.
        lilbubba
    • Just like my Android device

      I have a bluetooth keyboard for my Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 and it does the same thing. You'd think that if it were smart enough to detect and use an external keyboard that it would be smart enough to suppress the on-screen keyboard. Not.

      It annoys me but I get over it.
      cwallen198031
    • Typical Microsoft thoroughness

      Typical Microsoft fit and finish. I am amused too by those who really try to like this Windows H8 ill-fated Ballmer inspired dreck formed by basic common non-sense.
      PaulG53