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Normally I use a wireless keyboard without a number pad and a mouse right next to it. Having started a new job, I was finding my right arm somewhat more sore. This was confusing until I realized:

  • Each time I swap mouse/keyboard with my right hand I have about 13" EXTRA movement (numpad is about 6.5" wide)
  • My right arm is forced out slightly as compared with natural because of the extra distance
  • I do this movement roughly 2-5 times each minute depending on my current task
  • I use the number pad about 0.1% of the time my arm moves over it - maybe

This results in roughly a quarter mile of extra movement during the day (again depending on what I'm doing, unfortunately most content creation in Office applications requires TONS of this, internet browsing can be high if vimium doesn't work, coding is much less, etc).

Let me say that again:

  • I move my arm a quarter mile a day extra because my keyboard has a numbpad built-in

This is awful HCI/UX/ergonomics. Spend some time doing normal tasks and pay attention to this for yourself.

Yet in spite of this, I've found it hard to find non-numbpad keyboards. You can find them on laptops but stand-alone keyboards its much less common.

Are there compelling reasons this change has not happened on hardware more commonly? I can really think of only one, that being inertia and perceived resistance to change.

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Probably because people use them... –  Marjan Venema Mar 15 '13 at 15:23
@MarjanVenema so do I periodically. Which is why I would prefer a standalone number pad which I can leave out of the way for the 99% of the time I'm not using it. –  enderland Mar 15 '13 at 15:27
@enderland Then buy a keyboard without the numpad. They exist. –  Austin Henley Mar 15 '13 at 17:10
An even better question is "why is there a 'Scroll Lock' key / warning light ? " :-) –  PhillipW Mar 15 '13 at 19:44
Who says distance traveled has anything to do with soreness? If it were so, why don't we all use tiny keyboards? –  curious_cat Mar 17 '13 at 9:46
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5 Answers

Numpads are very useful when you need to type many numbers. It's much easier to have them all in their own area and it's much faster than using the ones above the letters.

And while numpads are present on most of the casual keyboards, you will definitely be able to find a keyboard to fulfill your needs, whatever those may be.

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Is there any study you can cite to support the assertion that typing on numpads is faster? How great is this difference in speed? (Is it large enough to impact the design decided on?) –  3nafish May 5 '13 at 18:55
It's at least 2x for me when entering long sequences of numbers. And I'm one of the relatively few who can touch-type the number row at the top of a normal keyboard. –  keshlam Jan 16 at 3:46
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Because the numeric keypad is useful.

I enter my numbers and calculations with the numeric keypad, it is much handier this way.

If you are allergic to the numeric keypad, you can now get an Apple iMac with the metal small keyboard, without numeric keypad — Apple still makes full keyboards too.

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The numeric keypad long predates computer keyboards, it was basically the UI of the adding machines used by tens of thousands of accountants in the days before PCs.

Personal computers were originally hobbyists' toys with limited application to business. Real businesses used real computers (mainframes and mini-computers from IBM, DEC, HP, DG, etc.) When accounting software packages like VisiCalc came out, computers that were formerly considered toys suddenly had a real business application. The productivity increases in small business accounting were undeniable and this pushed PCs acceptance in the business world and enabled the PC revolution.

Business PCs were initially accounting machines and often sat on the accountant's desk, so of course once this was realized they were designed with the UI accountants were most familiar with, the 10 key numeric keypad (which old school accountants could operate by touch at blinding speed).

When the Mac came out it didn't have the numeric keypad, which basically meant Mac's couldn't be used for accounting and it really limited their market at the time, so later Mac's included the numeric keypad. But soon computers were used for many things other than accounting, nevertheless the most popular keyboards had the numeric keypad so they could function as accounting machines if needed.

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In their early days, computers were used in a more rough way than now. Calculation-related tasks were performed on them more widely than playing games or creating graphics.

The numeric keypad was a great adition to perform these tasks with ease, as the keys layout was easier to handle with one hand than the one in the top row, below the function keys.

As found on Foldoc:

A keypad that has become a standard feature of PC keyboards, consisting of a rectangular array of 17 extra keys at the right-hand end: 0-9, ., Num Lock, /, *, -, + and Enter. Apart from Num Lock, these typically duplicate the function of other keys but are designed to make entering basic numerical calculations as quick as on a digital calculator. It is often possible to assign completely different functions to these keys according to the needs of a particular application.

Source: http://foldoc.org/Numeric+keypad

Today, numpads are often relics and they are often removed or degraded to Fn+{letter keys}, especially on laptop keyboards.

Edit: Improving my answer based on the comments:

The numpads are still important in some usage scenarios (for example: accountancy, administrative etc.) where entering big amounts of numerical data is necessary. To suit users habits, the layout for the digit keys reflects even the one used in calculators or cash registers, with 789 keys on top and 123 on the bottom.

There are also keyboards with numpads replaced with other modules to serve other users needs, like these for example:

  • A keyboard for Warcraft players: enter image description here
  • A keyboard with iPhone dock: enter image description here


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I would say the numpad is removed on laptops to have a smaller keyboard, thus smaller laptops, not because its an old design –  RhysW Mar 15 '13 at 15:19
Yes, of course, I didn't want to say it is the only reason. Keeping the size of the keyboard small is important, and this corresponds with the actual need of having numpad being smaller and smaller. In other words, the least important features are reduced first. Of course there still are usage scenarios in which the numpad does the trick, especially these where you need to manually enter a lot of numeric data (accountancy be the example). –  Dominik Oslizlo Mar 15 '13 at 15:22
Your last sentence is wrong. Plenty of people still make extensive use of the numeric keypad. Wouldn't want to operate any administrative/financial software without it! And why do you think laptops with separate numeric keypads are still in large demand? –  Marjan Venema Mar 15 '13 at 15:24
I have made an edit the comment to refer to this, most probably you have read it before I did. –  Dominik Oslizlo Mar 15 '13 at 15:26
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Keyboards are still sold with numpads because there is a demand for them. Many people use them a lot (think any form of numeric data entry), and would have their work negatively impacted without the numpad there.

That said, there are plenty of keyboards (both bluetooth and wired) that don't have a numpad.

enter image description here enter image description here

Another simple solution (if you're really committed to this) is to learn to use your mouse with your left hand. It's not as hard as it sounds, and is awesome with data entry to have your right hand on the numpad and your left hand on the mouse.

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At the risk of sending comments off on a tangent, I second the recommendation for using the left hand for the mouse. I started using a trackball with my left hand because of CTS. I find it works much better than using my right hand for mouse, arrow keys, and number pad. –  user1757436 Mar 15 '13 at 19:26
Yep, lots of keyboards without the numeric keypad out there. You may not necessarily find them at big-box store, but online there are a lot of stores - especially those specialized in ergonomic equipment - that sell them. I've been using a Kinesis Freestyle keyboard for a little over two years. The numeric keypad is an optional add-on that you can put wherever you like, if memory serves. –  MetalMikester May 6 '13 at 17:14
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