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QWERTY was used to prevent the arms of a typewriter from clashing. DVORAK is made for productivity (~70% of the typing on the homerow)

If you use a swipe keyboard (as available on android 4.2?, swype app and similar) what would be the best layout theoraticaly? Dvorak would misinterpret a lot i'd guess if you only swipe back and forth on one row.

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The tale is QWERTY was designed to PREVENT the arms of a typewriter to clash. Because it's now pretty much the norm, the best keyboard to use in most every case is the QWERTY keyboard. –  DA01 Feb 1 '13 at 1:33
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There's been lots of research in mobile keyboards with non-qwerty layout; search for HCI articles and I'm sure you'll find plenty. The problem is while many of them can achieve higher WPM than QWERTY when used by trained experts, the first time usability is a nightmare. That's why QWERTY is used still, because everyone knows it. It's well beyond a critical mass that can be easily replaced. –  Ben Brocka Feb 11 '13 at 13:34
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4 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

From a user experience point of view inputting information would be easiest, if the most used keys are in close proximity, and common keyboard combinations are next to each other.

While the DVORAK layout is efficient for typing with ten fingers that lay on the home key row and thus have fast access to the most commonly used letters, the same logic does not apply for swipe keyboard input, where you have one pointer. In fact, having all the most commonly used letters in a row might be counter productive in this case, because users would have to constantly slide left and right with constraint to one dimension, which actually makes longer movement paths.

Ideally, the most used keys would situate in the center area of the keyboard, allowing for little movement for the most common letters and detouring to the sides for the less frequently used letters.

The way swipe keyboards work, technically, is by comparing movement end points to possible words, under consideration of letters that were swiped over between corner points. In this light, the way QWERTY distributes the keys to left and right hand actually helps making words and the letters they constituate of more identifyable, because their movements are more characteristic. Clustering all the heavily used letters in the center area might thus backfire from a technical point of view, because it makes words less identifiable as less "zig-zags" movement happens.

With these two extremes, users' ease of input on the one hand and technical ease of word detection on the other hand, only thorough testing can reveal which would be the most efficient layout. My wager is, however, that it's those two extremes that dictate the framework. I doubt that DVORAK is actually a good fit with regards to both, usability and technical compability.

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There's also the idea that the QWERTY keyboard has become an "ingrained affordance" -- i.e. it wasn't efficient before, but too many folks have learned it one way to change now without taking some hit to efficiency. –  Rachel Keslensky Feb 1 '13 at 14:24
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The first sentence in your question is incorrect. QWERTY was designed to avoid conflicts between the arms on a typewriter, by making the keys used alternate mostly between the keys on the left and right sides. And all newer keyboard layouts use this, as it makes typing faster than say an alphabetic layout.

But the swipe keyboard which is a continuous stroke text entry method doesn't benefit from this. In fact the left right alternation lengthens the swipes and slows down the input process. And instead an optimal swipe keyboard layout would be one that minimizes the finger control and travel distance required to trace out the path that covers the needed letters.

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If one were willing to learn a new keyboard layout for most efficiency, I'd agree. However, from a UX perspective, most people are going to be most familiar with the QWERTY keyboard so would suggest that as being a good default. –  DA01 Feb 1 '13 at 1:34
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I'm a massive Swype user in 2 languages (Hebrew & English), and I just completed an article that will be published soon on UXBooth about the challenges of typing for people who lack the use of an arm or hand.

The thing with Swype is that it works on memory more than anything else. That's why the QWERTY is the only real solution...theoretically there are lots of other options, DVORAK being the most popular alternative, but Swype in QWERTY is th eonly option that is user friendly at present.

That said, I did interviews with lots of one handed/armed people. None were using Swype and I was very surprised by this. One of my interviews was with a girl who is a blogger and writer and she is physically impaired since birth (she has one arm that is very small and skinny and she can't use it for typing). She taught herself DVORAK for one-handed people, but she said her iPhone and iPad don't have the option for the DVORAK keyboard because the keyboard for iPhone/iPad is native! Clearly she's not using Android.

Meanwhile, if she were using Android the question would be-- Which would you prefer? Your standard keyboard or a different keyboard? My guess is that she would choose her standard DVORAK not because it was any faster or "better", but because she would immediately know the interface without having to learn anything new.

Theoretically, I'd take a look at every other option on the planet and choose the best one. Practically, I'll take what I know and avoid extra thinking at all costs.

(Here is the initial blog post that led to a MUCH more in-depth research/writing process. The final version is around 2000 words. For those interested drop me a line and I'd be happy to pass along the link when it's published in the near future. http://uxandrew.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/limber-and-frogpad-how-i-learned-to-type-one-handed-in-just-a-few-minutes/)

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When I think about the swipe keyboard, I think about the interface when entering your name as a high scorer on a video game. The letters are in alphabetic order and it just makes sense if your are using your vision rather than your sensory memory to select the letters. Just to be sure, I asked my six year-old daughter what she would like to see if she could swipe around a screen to spell things. She said "Duh, it should be in the right [alphabetical] order. Otherwise it's confusing." She's a bit precocious.

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