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The History of Layouts, Keys and Keyboards

 QWERTY: The Slower You Going, the Longer Road You Will Endure

 The history of various input devices with keys lasts for hundreds of years (the first organ with keys was described in a work dated 1st century A.D.), but the first mechanical typewriter as we know it was invented back in the 1867 by Christopher Latham Sholes and partners. Back then, keys were located alphabetically. Just several years later typists quickly learned to type so fast that mechanical letters which hit the typewriter ribbon got broken/jammed too often and technicians, who had to repair the typewriters, as well as typists themselves asked manufacturer to somehow fix the issue.

Since it was hardly possible to avoid jamming of letter mechanisms, considering design of mechanical typewriters, the manufacturer of typewriters decided to slowdown typists’ speed of typing. As a consequence, the most frequently used letters in English language – E, T, A, S, O, R, N, I – were placed very inconveniently. As a result, the speed of typing decreased, the jamming was avoided and the QWERTY keyboard layout was born.


One of the world's first typewriters.
Image by About.com

The next leap in evolution of keyboards, which happened about fifty years after the invention of the typewriter, was the creation of electric typewriter in 1930s. Electric typewriters did not have any issues with jamming of letter mechanisms and there was no point to slowdown speed of typing on them, however, as typists were already used to QWERTY layout, manufacturers had to continue using it.

Another evolutionary step for keyboards was the emergence of personal computers in the 1970s and the appearance of the keyboard as we know it today. But despite of over a hundred years history and numerous failed attempts to improve the speed of typing by moving frequently used letters into the central places, the inefficient QWERTY standard layout is still here and it is unlikely that it will cease to exist soon.

As a result, all the efforts to improve speed of typing in the last 30 years on the PC were aimed at improving ergonomics and tactile feeling of QWERTY keyboards.

 
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