I have noticed, that some (well, quite many!) single-purpose devices (like: GPS for a car or some photo frames) use 'ABC' keyboard layout as default one, instead of the (local) standard QWERTY. And in some cases, there is not even a setting allowing user to change it.

I think the reason for that is that these devices can be used by people totally unfamiliar with computing. Actually - it's hard for me to find another explanation.

But I believe this group is very small, so the question is: should it be so? Should the needs of a small group of people shape the user experience of the majority?

Or maybe my assumptions are wrong and the reason lies somewhere completely else?

  • 2
    A useful (although not a duplicate) post about uses of ABC keyboards - ux.stackexchange.com/questions/33337/…
    – JonW
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 7:47
  • 3
    A related question: why do these gadgets use ABC today? What are the manufacturers of these components, and what drives their choice? Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 9:06
  • 1
    I guess the advantage to a manufacturer in a global market is that they only have to provide the one global layout - as querty isn't a global standard.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 10:37
  • @PhillipW - Well, maybe. But is ABC a global standard? Is it a standard at all? For putting items in an order - maybe. But for input? Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 11:08
  • 2
    with the export market as it is its easier to use a single ABC than multiple qwertys and azertys variations Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 14:12

2 Answers 2


Much of UX is about expectations and recognizing patterns. Anyone who is used to QWERTY will be much faster in finding a specific character in that layout than in an ABC layout because you don't really have to actively think about it. Especially in satnavs, you want to be able to use the keyboard quickly and efficiently, and for a huge part of your user base that means QWERTY.

However, there are some considerations that favor ABC.

There is this issue of internationalization. While we might assume QWERTY would be a decent default in many cases, entire countries use different layouts like AZERTY. Unless you solve this and support whatever layout your user might be used to, it's better to default to a more universal layout like ABC.

I haven't found any evidence, but there are a lot of claims that ABC keyboards are easier to use by people suffering from dyslexia. I find that a more logical explanation than people not being used to computers, since computers and keyboards are so ubiqitous anyone will have seen a QWERTY layout before. So, if you want your product to be very inclusive you could opt for ABC as the default, while offering a switch to QWERTY (and AZERTY, etc) for "power users".

Also, QWERTY only works in it's original layout. The keys should be staggered and in 3 lines (Q-P, A-L and Z-M). So, you can't have a layout over 2 or 4 lines and that might be more useful in certain situations than having QWERTY. Take for instance a keyboard layout that has to be navigated using directional keys .

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If the keyboard isn't meant for typing words but just indicating single characters (like in the hangman examples), the ABC layout has more flexibility and will probably not affect UX negatively.

  • I totally agree with the staggering in 3 lines prerequisity. Regarding dyslexia - this article on Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyslexia states that only 5-10% of people suffer from dyslexia. So my guessing is that (assuming that keys can be arranged in three lines, of course) this should be turned on 'on demand' the same way as accessibility options for vision impaired people. Yet, it is often like this by default, so 90-95% of people potentially suffer from this status quo. Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 8:41
  • Having seen a qwerty layout doesn't mean that someone will be comfortable using it. Many people use improved layouts or country specific ones.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 9:03
  • That's true, but ABC does not address this issue. Actually, the topic of national keyboard layouts is somethind on top of it. In Poland, where I live, there is one keyboard commonly used in computing - QWERTY, with some keys entered with AltGr (e.g. alt+a = ą). Interestingly, we have two modifications of z, which are ż (alt+z) and ź (alt+x), so almost everyone who has used a computer is familiar with this layout. Maybe not everyone who uses GPS has used a computer, but I believe it is a vast majority. Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 14:50
  • @JohnGB You're totally right. It really is not just ABC vs QWERTY. "QWERTY" in my answer should read "local standard or anything the user prefers". Which makes me think going for ABC might also be a way to circumvent the i18n issue. If in your country (e.g. Belgium) AZERTY is the standard, perhaps a QWERTY is going to be just as bad as ABC. It's so easy to assume QWERTY as an international standard, but it's not really. Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 19:33
  • @KoenLageveen I would argue that being shown a keyboard with keys in an order that you know (assuming you know what alphabetical order is) is better than showing someone a keyboard in an order that they don't know. I suspect that is why the ABC keyboard is used, but I have no data to back this up.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 19:56

I would suggest the following differentiation:

  • If the keyboard is for typing (long term and not once in a while) you would want to go with an 'optimized' layout like the QWERTY or something else.

  • If the keyboard is not optimized for typing with (both) hands, you can debate about going with ABC keyboard.

eg: Satnav are not necessarily in your hands while typing the address, they might be mounted on the windscreen or fixed in the center console. In both cases user cannot use it with 2 hands to make use of the QWERTY optimization.

eg2: In game consoles, you do not have a QWERTY keyboard (usually) and are given a ABC layout for easier access.

I would say that ABC might be easier to use while looking and selecting(typing).

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