Why do almost all keyboards have a QWERTY layout?

From the first typewriters to the virtual keyboards we use on smartphones, the QWERTY layout is the most widely used worldwide and is used by around 97% of all keyboards worldwide. How has it become so critically important as to arrive at these staggering numbers?

The origins of the QWERTY layout


None of us were born when this style of keyboard was first adopted, in 1873, although it is true that the design and patent actually date back to a few years earlier, 1868 by Christopher Sholes (however, Christopher Sholes sold him the patent to Remington in 1873 which was when it began to be used). Obviously, the name of this layout comes from the first six letters that appear in the top row of keys.

The reason why the keys have been placed in this order and not in another (such as in alphabetical order as in the first typewriters, which would be more logical than this one, which seem to have been distributed haphazardly) was to solve a problem that existed precisely at that time: some people ended up writing so extremely fast on the first typewriters that the metal rods they used collided with each other, causing breakdowns.

In addition to this problem, this layout was initially designed to improve typing speed by being able to use both hands simultaneously. In this type of keyboard, according to the most widespread typing technique and in the resting position, four fingers of each hand are placed on the central row of keys. To be able to find this position without having to look at the keyboard, the keys corresponding to the index fingers of each hand (F and J) have a small notch so that we can distinguish them by touch.

J and F notches

To solve this problem is why the QWERTY layout was developed, since the keys are placed in such a way that the most used letters are spaced from each other so that the metal rods do not collide with each other when typing (or at least they did not. so frequently). This keyboard layout became the standard with the popularity of the Remington typewriter, which was the first to use it since, as we have mentioned before, they were the ones who acquired the patent from Christopher Sholes in 1873; after that, the rest of the manufacturers lined up and started using it as well.

So here we are, more than 140 years later we are still using a keyboard layout designed to fix a problem that no longer exists. How many people use a typewriter today? And of those who still use it, how many have a wand typewriter if they are digital? We have an entire generation growing up today with mobile devices, and even they use the QWERTY keyboard.

Why don’t we stop using this very old distribution?

Over the decades, many people have tried to introduce a culture change with keyboards that make more sense; for example we have the Dvorak keyboards (also called a simplified keyboard) which is designed to increase typing speed, but has never really been adopted by users.

Dvorak keyboard

So, if there are other keyboard layouts that give us faster typing speed than QWERTY, why do we continue to use this and not more optimized ones? Because somehow everyone has learned to use it, and most of us have become so extremely good at it that we type without even looking at the keyboard. Getting used to a different layout would be almost like learning a new language, and this is something that would obviously take a long time.

Learning to use an ABCDEF keyboard at approximately the same time as learning the alphabet (we are talking about children, of course) would be the best way to introduce a mental change with keyboards. Children can even learn to operate two different styles of keyboard in the same way that it is easier for them than adults to learn a new language, but the problem is that an adult who already knows how to use a QWERTY keyboard would take a lot of work to get used to. to another distribution.

So, if we want to leave behind this ancient design that dates back two centuries, the only option that (we) see viable would be to introduce it little by little in children, coexisting for several generations with two different keyboard layouts, QWERTY for children. that we are already used to this and the new distribution for the new generations; otherwise, we find it impossible to leave it behind.

Even QWERTY has different versions

Azerty keyboard

The QWERTY keyboard has been relatively adapted over time, and it actually has different versions for some languages. There are countries like Germany that exchange the letters Y for Z, with what they become QWERTZ keyboards; in France and Belgium there are more changes and the first six keys have the AZERTY sequence, as in the image that you can see above this paragraph. In the Spanish and Latin American disposition the Ñ key of our alphabet is included just to the right of the L, while in the Portuguese and Catalan the Ç is included to the left of the ENTER. In Japan they use Kana characters printed next to the Latin characters and numbers.

So as you can see, despite the fact that the QWERTY distribution is the most widely used in the world (and it will continue to be as we have explained) it has certain variants that have evolved over time, mainly to suit the particularities of the languages ​​of the different countries.

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