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When typing on smartphones or tablets it is very cumbersome to move the cursor to a different position. Why is it that the onscreen keyboards on these devices usually don't have left/right arrow buttons to move the cursor?

So far I could only find the arrow keys in the onscreen keyobard of tablets running Windows 10:

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  • 1
    Many Android ROM:s and other add-ons have the ability to use the volume keys as cursor controls. – Ilias Bennani Sep 9 '16 at 11:22
  • Tablets can spare the space more easily than phones so default keyboards there might be more likely to have them – Chris H Sep 9 '16 at 12:48
  • The Windows 10 Mobile keyboard has this neat virtual "nub" like on Thinkpad laptops. I believe it's beside the shift key. To use it, just drag the circle in one of four directions to move the cursor. As already noted, many Android keyboards allow you to drag the space bar to move the cursor. And let us not forget BlackBerrys. Those with a trackpad have a physical cursor control, and those with touch-sensitive physical keyboards can move the cursor by dragging on the keyboard (I'm not 100% sure about this last one...). – user69458 Sep 9 '16 at 14:57
  • I have those on my iPhone when rotated. Figured everyone put them in by now. – NotMe Sep 12 '16 at 23:12
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Mainly space. Android deals with this issue by allowing you to us a gesture dragging along the Spacebar to place the cursor right and left retainer to its current position. Not obvious, but it works well.

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    Can't get this spacebar drag to work for me :-( – PhillipW Sep 10 '16 at 7:12
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    When I swipe on my spacebar it switches between langauges – yitzih Sep 12 '16 at 17:46
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Mostly a real estate issue, however on some devices, or larger devices they are available, and a welcome addition!

Opera Mini (an app), augments the keyboard to add a scrubber at the top of the keyboard to make navigation in the URL you are editing much easier.

On the Google keyboard on Android, you can swipe left/right on the space bar to move the cursor.

On a personal level I would LOVE to have some better options on iOS to navigate around text content (the magnifier is horrible near the top of the screen (you can't see) and requires you to click and drag right on the caret placement vs. some much larger hit target. Luckily there are replacement keyboards that provide additional behaviors like this, unfortunately the default ones are not incorporating the most desired features back into their default keyboards.

1

Because it's easier holding on the address bar and move the cursor than tapping arrow button several or more times. If you want them, you can use SwiftKey Keyboard which places arrow buttons the bottom of the keyboard.

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    I've just turned them off again on swiftkey (phone) as they take up too much screen; but they're not that useful anyway. – Chris H Sep 9 '16 at 12:47
  • "holding the address bar" - how is that supposed to work? That selects portions of text for me, but doesn't move the cursor. – O. R. Mapper Feb 24 at 8:51
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Because touch screens are based on the paradigm of touch control. Adding arrows to allow positioning is redundant, because you're supposed to set your position with your own fingers. Rather than tapping x times to set a coordínate, you can move along not only one axis, but 2, rendering the arrows superfluous.

However, leaving the paradigm aside, it's true that many devices have some important issues at the time of implementing tbis. As an example, I'm writing this on an iPad and I'd love to have these arrows since iOS text edition capabilities are really sub par.

Bottom line is that this won't change. In any case, implementations have to be better.

While there might be good reasons to do what you say since there are obvious flaws, you can't expect that the different operating systems will decide to go back in history. There's an standard, and if anyone wants to move from the standard, there are apps to modify different behaviors.

  • "Rather than tapping x times to set a coordínate, you can move along not only one axis, but 2, rendering the arrows superfluous." - you wouldn't be tapping x times. You'd be tapping once to set the caret to the approximate target, then use the arrow keys with one or two taps for the fine-tuning. – O. R. Mapper Feb 24 at 9:00
  • Which is, exactly, “tapping X times”, as much as you need to move in any direction using the arrows (plus tapping to set the position, of course, so it would be x+1 if you like) – Devin Feb 24 at 16:47
  • The X taps you were talking about (without setting the position with your fingers) are much more numerous than the ones I was referring to (after setting the position roughly with your fingers). – O. R. Mapper Feb 25 at 18:09
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Because they're redundant. They're the pancreas of the computer world.

Their original purpose was in pre-mouse times for moving the cursor. Once the mouse was invented and solidly took control of this job they were already an established part of keyboard design and try as Apple might, they weren't going anywhere.

The actual uses that arrow keys have on modern PCs are thus fairly limited compared to their original use, and they may not even be incorporated if we were (100% theoretically, not at all practically) completely designing a keyboard from scratch, the only big exception that comes to mind being in document editing, where they help users to avoid switching between two input methods.

What uses the arrow keys do have- moving your selection on windows explorer, scrolling the browser.... these are far more easily done by touching on a phone- where it is feasible to imagine something may be stopping you from using a mouse on a PC there's no way you won't be able to use your hand on a smartphone.

I suppose one can see parallels between the development of desktops and smartphones- remember that in the pre-smartphone era phones DID tend to have physical arrow keys for selecting options....But with space being finite, complete hardware redesigns being standard order of the day and a lack of need it was far easier to remove them on a phone than a desktop.

  • But but but, how else would I control power allocation in Elite:Dangerous? – RedGrittyBrick Sep 9 '16 at 13:44
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    Problem is, getting your cursor to the end of a long line (like the end of the address bar) is a pain in the neck. Honestly, I miss the days of slide-out keyboards on phones. I've never liked touch keyboards. I've been waiting for 10 damn years for them to get borderline usable, and it just doesn't seem to be happening. – Christine Sep 9 '16 at 17:22
  • wow. People really don't like computer history. – the other one Sep 12 '16 at 12:00
  • @Hill true. Getting your cursor in just the right place is a pain on touch devices. But I don't think arrow keys are really the best solution there- click right 20 times then left twice.... some way of allowing for mouse like accuracy with stubby human fingers seems more called for. Or ideally avoiding the need for such precision at all. – the other one Sep 12 '16 at 12:02
  • @theotherone: Typically, the issue is that I want to insert a character (w.l.o.g.) left of an 'i' or 'l' character, but the caret is right of it. I'm just one tap short of the desired position (not 20!), but it's the one tap I cannot perform for lack of a suitable key. Instead, I do end up with some twenty taps at approximately the same location until my chubby finger happens to hit the right pixel. – O. R. Mapper Feb 24 at 8:58

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