Wednesday, 14 May 2008

New interfaces

How’s this for a piece of over-engineered old technology? I heard recently that the standard keyboard we take for granted is actually counter-intuitive. The QWERTY layout was apparently designed to slow down typists. In the 19th century, old manual typewriters had a design flaw – when typing speed increased, the keys used to stick. So some bright spark had the idea of laying out the letter-keys in such a way that it was more difficult to type quickly. The more commonly used letters (a, e, s, etc) were placed at the (weaker, for most people) left hand, and the more common letters were also placed towards the edges, so that they had to be struck by the weaker fingers like the pinkie.

Amazingly, nearly twenty years after Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, with almost everybody using a keyboard every day, we still haven’t got round to replacing it with something more intuitive, more natural to use.

But I don’t think that day is far off. Voice recognition software, touch-sensitive screens, handwriting recognition software are developments that point the way ahead. When Mr Spock first talked to the computer in Star Trek, it must have seemed impossibly futuristic, but now that day is near. And the keyboard and the mouse are on borrowed time.

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