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Smartphone Keyboards Suck—Who Will Fix Them?

Touch-screen keyboards are infuriating. Whoever improves them will be a consumer hero—and many are trying. Charles Wright of the University of California, Irvine, a specialist in human-computer interactions, reviews a few recent redesigns:


The Fix: Smash the qwerty keyboard into one row and use predictive text to select letters.

Wright Says: "There is one big trade-off here: touch-typing is almost impossible. However, if the predictive system is good, it might well make up for the speed penalty that imposes."

SI revolution

The Fix: Replace the keyboard's usual 105-ish keys with just four movable buttons.

Wright Says: "This will dramatically minimize the extent of the movements that need to be made, but it requires you to learn unfamiliar associations between letters and buttons."


The Fix: Place keys in four sectors and swipe across them, mimicking the motion of handwriting.

Wright Says: "Given the work that I have done, this is the approach closest to my heart. It is also quite clearly the approach that will require the most extra learning on the part of users."

Will We Be Using New Keyboards Soon?

Probably Not, Wright Says: "There will inevitably be people who want to try something new that catches their fancy. But there is a real cost to switching from a known system to another, and so even if some system is better, there will be many potential users unwilling to switch."

[Illustration by Noelia Lozano]

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  • jeffzx9r could just buy a Blackberry! I love mine. (I've NEVER been a fan of those touch-screen abominations...)

  • Critical Thinker

    Core problem - cramming a 12 inch wide PC keyboard layout (QWERTY) into a 2 inch wide smartphone results in error-prone buttons sized for chipmunks, not humans.

    The simplest "no moving parts" solution would be bigger buttons in a different keyboard layout except - people hate learning new layouts. Why? Because our muscle memory reflexes take a long time to learn and un-learn.

    The "Holy Grail" of smartphone keyboards is built around a patented, modified-QWERTY keyboard layout used in the "Big Buttons Keyboard” Android app. The surprising layout has BIG buttons AND utilizes your muscle memory reflexes, making the new layout super-fast to learn and type on. Way fewer typos, numbers are bigger too. It just makes sense for portrait mode operation.