Typing with thumbs: is QWERTY’s time up?

medium_5263791953It seems like only yesterday that I wrote about how QWERTY thankfully was stamping out the awful text speak that previous incarnations of cellphones etc. had spewed up into our society, replacing those nauseous disasters with nice little QWERTY keyboard impressions we can use instead.

This neatly, so I thought, allowed even the trendiest of young people to write proper words and sentences rather than a poor relation of abbreviated Pig Latin that made Morse Code look simple to understand.

So what do the boffins come up with now? Typing with your thumbs. Because these bijou little QWERTY screens on phones, phablets, tablets, etc. are too  bijou for fat-fingered customers to use without splatting incomprehensible garbage, largely due to the fact that they usually strike QWE and RTY with a fingertip each.

Shock, horror: what is the world coming to?

If I’m honest I should welcome this change for purely physiological reasons, because my fingertips are far from slender – especially those on one side since surgery brought about lymphedema that makes my fingers on the left hand look like giant Brätwurst.

But OMG … does this mean that old fart writers (well, wrong side of 50) like moi  must learn a whole new technique? According to John Pavlus for MIT Technology Review writing on Mashable.com

“The result? A 34% boost in typing speed. The catch? It’ll take four to eight hours of training to be able to use it at a level of fluency equivalent to a standard QWERTY keyboard, and more hours to get faster.”

Four to eight hours? Are you crazy?

When I learned to touch type using a QWERTY keyboard I was 16 years old, attending night school over and above my daytime school, and it took me somewhere between four to six weeks  to learn to touch type. Plus a few.

Let’s not get this wrong. I wasn’t stupid; although I came from a culture and generation where families didn’t believe in educating girls, I did eventually graduate from high school, go to college, get some qualifications and become a member of British MENSA.

So what’s my point?

Four to six hours to shift the QWERTY mindset that has been fossilizing in brains like mine for several decades? Are you nuts?

It took me weeks to wean myself off my old cellphone with those pesky tap-tap-tap buttons for texting/SMS, rather than my dinky smartphone that now allows me to conduct all my eBusiness while trapped in a traffic jam, cleaning up the dog poop in my back yard, enthroned in the bathroom, etc.

OK, I’m a) over 50 and b) a card-carrying technophobe. But I shudder to think how the manufacturers of these new thumbs-up keyboards plan to re-educate however many squillions of cellphone, tablet, and other glassy-topped incarnation users they need to convert to make a success of this.

All the same, the promoters are optimistic

John Pavlus for MIT Technology Review writing on Mashable.com again …

“Considering how much typing on a glass touchscreen blows in comparison to using hard keys, it’s easy to imagine how Blackberry saw the first iPhone back in 2007 and thought, ‘Bah, this isn’t a threat.’ We all know how that turned out.”

“But typing on glass still blows, and voice dictation on mobile devices (while pretty awesome) isn’t a good fit for every situation. So how can we un-blowify touchscreen typing? Two interesting software-design approaches have recently emerged: one rethinks how the keyboard looks, while the other rethinks how the keyboard acts. “

Ssshhhh, don’t say anything, but…

Despite being a boring old fart (see above), I reckon these developments have a fab future. And if someone drags me, kicking and screaming, into learning how they work – I’ll be up for it.

After all, QWERTY has been doing us proud since the 19th century, so maybe it’s time we moved on.

Have a look at John Pavlus’ article in full – it’s fascinating.

What do you think? Would you find a thumbs-led keyboard easier and more practical to use? Please share your views here … I think this is going to become a hot topic…!

While you’re here, don’t forget to stop by my Bookshop…books and eBooks to help you write better – and to give to friends and family – from just $2.50 (less than £2.00!)

photo credit: Photo Extremist via photopin cc




  1. I am also an oldie but goodie touch typist who learnt in them old days and at one time had a accurate speed of 60+ wpm. Now, on the tablet I struggle – and on my phone, well typos are often sent mistakenly

    Love the image, Suze

    • Hmmm … I wonder! Do you think this reconfiguration will help with the typos, or just allow us to make different ones! I will have to get hold of one of these gizmos and have a play with it…


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