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Context: I've got an iOS keyboard app that's a numpad. We recently, after a lot of user feedback, added four additional keys: period, comma, space, and return. The day we released that feedback received was "what about hyphens?" and "what about dashes". Obviously this is a challenge because it's a keyboard with the main priority of making the number keys as large, and centered, as possible.

We're investigating best options for including additional keys, as well as potentially making the key selection customizable and adding secondary key functions (like the default iOS keyboard has for many characters, where you tap and hold to see the secondary functions). Priority will still have to be given to the most useful keys, as well as placement.

Do you know of any research that shows what is the most common punctuation marks used when writing numbers, as a whole? Obviously periods and commas are used for decimals and large numbers (depending on the region), but any study on the subject would be tremendously helpful in advance of just building and A/B testing different styles.

edit: for clarification this is an iOS app keyboard, you can view details here - https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/numpad-your-number-keyboard/id1072547160?mt=8

  • @msw what do you mean? – Jamezrp Mar 20 '17 at 19:48
  • sorry, if by "keyboard app" you mean your own input method provider, then my comment is nonsensical. Otherwise, if you meant you need numeric input in your app, use a standard (e.g. telephone dialing) keypad as provided by iOS. Any deviation from the conventional is worse than your best effort. – msw Mar 20 '17 at 19:49
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    It's my own iOS keyboard app. Link for clarification: itunes.apple.com/us/app/numpad-your-number-keyboard/… – Jamezrp Mar 20 '17 at 19:55
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I do not know of any research personally but there is only a very small set of characters that are used when formatting numbers:

  • Decimal separator (. or , depending on locale).
  • Dash for negation (-).

If you don't have both of those, then there are numbers that you simply cannot enter. So you need those.

A backspace key is technically optional but without it correcting mistakes becomes difficult or potentially impossible.

A thousands separator (, or . depending on locale) is not necessary but given that including both . and , let you support all common locales without having to know which is in use, that's an option.

Everything else really depends on your specific situation:

  • Space: If the user can be editing text while in number pad mode, a space could be useful. If a user is entering a list of numbers, a space could be useful. Do you do things like this?

  • Enter: Same deal.

  • %, currency symbols, parentheses, E, etc. again, all optional, so you'd have to take typical context for your specific user base into account.

But you really ought to include a decimal separator and a hyphen, those are both important parts of numbers, and required to represent all numbers. The rest is icing on the cake.

If you get common independent requests from your users, that's basically your study right there.

Also if you are writing a generic keyboard app, you could track usage information. For example, if a user leaves number pad mode, enters only a small number of characters, then enters number pad mode again, send yourself some automated feedback about what those characters were. Same with characters entered just before entering or just after leaving number pad mode.

The other thing is, look at existing physical number pads (for example). They've all got about the same set of characters: Always digits, dash, and a decimal separator. Mathematical operators are common but only because the context is they're often used when performing calculations, which probably isn't a common use case on a generic mobile keyboard. Enter is also common. Other than that, there's not much else.

Bear in mind that if you start making things up or rearranging layouts in non-conventional ways, you risk creating a good amount of confusion. So I'd really just stick with the required characters: Decimal separator and dash, and at most include the common options: Thousands separator and enter, plus the convenience: Backspace.

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    A handy guide to usage of a keyboard is the pattern of dirt on the keyboard, and over a long time, how the numbers start to rub off. – PhillipW Mar 20 '17 at 22:55
  • @jason-c Those are fair points, but obviously I'm looking for data on the subject. I know what are the more commonly used punctuation marks and can easily test which ones users prefer. The question is regarding available research on the subject, mostly because there are so many potential use cases for this topic that it's a unique challenge to determine what's the best path to take. Then again, if there are no case studies or research on the subject...looks like I'll be making one of my own. Which is interesting...but costly and time consuming. Yay (?) – Jamezrp Mar 21 '17 at 18:32

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