I just read an article about some bonus keys on the iPad's split keyboard. Obviously this seems like a great idea to prevent a usability issue from even happening. It seems like this could backfire just as easily though.

I don't think there is any inline help/documentation about this feature so I have to wonder if it (or other ideas like it) could backfire. Are there any good rules for taking the observation that someone at Apple had ("Hey, those people don't type exactly like how we split the keyboard") to a subtly hidden usability improvement like this compared to a menu option for 2-3 different versions of a split keyboard?

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  • How can this backfire? Why should it be documented? Documentation would take care of the instructions on how to split the keyboard not why middle set of keys is duplicated.
    – dnbrv
    Apr 25 '12 at 13:41
  • I don't think it needs to be documented, I was curious about the thought process involved with taking this idea from the observation phase to their actual implementation (compared to a setting that allowed split-keyboard customization). Apr 25 '12 at 14:24

Every feature should be documented. But that ideal is rarely realized.

In this particular case, there is almost no penalty for this undocumented feature... if someone misses a key unintentionally they would already expect an error (missing character), so having a different error (wrong character) is a very minor change. If they missed it intentionally (such as if they are a touch typer and do it unconsciously) then it avoids an error. So the change is only an improvement, with no significant downside.

This is the rule you need to follow for an invisible feature: it has to have no downside. There should be no use case where the feature causes problems rather than a benefit.

In fact, there is a very common invisible feature that many people use all the time: keyboard accelerators. Pressing weird combination keystrokes (like Alt+F or Ctrl+Shift+Left Arrow) is not something you do by accident, and if you do then you should expect a weird action. But if you know about a normally invisible action that can be done faster with a keystroke, it saves you time. They are often undocumented (or poorly documented).

  • It's not so much a feature as a heuristic in this case; trying to catch incorrect key presses on the split keyboard. I think this fits fairly nicely into something that doesn't need to be documented. Also, keyboard shortcuts are totally documented (in Windows) and always should be!
    – Ben Brocka
    Apr 25 '12 at 14:17
  • Some are documented, but not all; in addition, how often have you seen the documentation for Windows? How many shortcuts did you learn from a 'Tips' site rather than from the documentation? Documentation that is never read or hard to find isn't good documentation. Try searching for 'keyboard shortcuts' or 'keyboard accelerators' on the start menu, and see how many help pages come up (hint: 0). Apr 25 '12 at 14:51

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