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I am surprised about the trend to make arrow keys half-sized and crammed right next to each other in recent laptops:

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These are the same keys that stand completely isolated on the conventional keyboard, implying that they are really rather important.

Since this change has the potential to affect the user experience in a very negative way, surely it warrants a study of its effects on the UX. Do you know of such a study?

Are there any large-scale studies on the frequency of each key use by the general population?

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There's a very interesting project that's created a "keyboard heatmap" that has some interesting studies but it only covers the text input keys (as it analyzes text post mortem, not arrow key/ect use mid typing.) –  Ben Brocka Dec 28 '11 at 14:40
    
I can't seem to find any studies making a proper heatmap of keyboard use, it seems a study would be quite easy using keylogger software. Some non-experimental results suggest arrow key use isn't that great, but I suspect PC gamers would have very different heat maps. –  Ben Brocka Dec 28 '11 at 14:45
    
I WISH my arrow keys were nicely in the corner like that on my laptop. Instead, they are jammed in between the keys, and a numpad, however, they aren't full size keys, making them even harder to push. AND the newer laptops that re-use the F keys for other purposes (volume, brightness, etc), and require you to push the fn key to use the F keys. –  CaffGeek Dec 28 '11 at 15:04
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One thing to consider when it comes to the arrow keys is that what they're usually used for is mouse interaction shortcuts. You use them for navigating in a text editor, can be done with the mouse, and they're used for selection which also can be done by the mouse.

I would say this is one of the reasons why they have smaller dedicated space compared to other keys.

Still, since they are mapped in in out most corner of the keyboard they are still easily accessible without locating them with your eyes first.

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The problem is, on a laptop, arrows (keyboard) tend to be faster and easier to use than a mouse. Unfortunately, since the average user doesn't know the shortcuts, they use the mouse. And the manufacturers design for the average user. –  CaffGeek Dec 28 '11 at 17:44
    
@Chad true, the manufacturer will design for the largest focus group to get more revenue. –  AndroidHustle Dec 29 '11 at 9:12
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