Thinking about keyboards

Hi all,
I am getting very excited about my first Framework computer which is due in the first quarter of the coming year. It is a 16inch to replace my 2016 Dell 2-in-1 Inspiron 17inch which is still going well but can’t be upgraded because the CPU won’t take Windows 11.

I hate having to change from something which is still working so finding Framework was astounding for me. I hope to never have to discard another computer.

While I was musing about things the other night, after using my computer in tablet mode, I suddenly wondered why we still use physical keyboards? They are a weak point in so many ways, getting things jammed under the keys/coping with liquid spills/having the print wear off/etc.
Can anyone tell me why keyboards haven’t been replaced with touch screens?
Thanks, Mary.
England

Tactile feedback. I think virtually every touch typist would be terribly pissed. And even many not-so touch typists would hate it as well.

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There are several reasons for me. 1) The haptics of being able to “feel” that I typed the letter I wanted. 2) The ability to rest my fingers on the “home row” keys without triggering a press. 3) The ability to type without watching my hands to see what keys I am pressing (this could probably be learned if there were still ridges outlining the keys).

Touch keyboards work on phones where you are watching what your fingers are doing and your fingers are not blocking the majority of the keys. On a laptop, if you have both hands in a typing position, you hands block the majority the view of the keys.

Of course I have never used a touchscreen laptop keyboard to know for sure, but I am pretty sure my typing speed (which isn’t that fast to begin with) would slow down significantly.

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MJ But people are so used to using phones with no tactile feedback now. You could have audible feedback if you wanted … I work by hearing the keys I think rather than by touch. Of course it was very different when I first learned to type on the old lever machine when you really had to put some force behind it :slight_smile:
Is it just habit for some touch typers?
A Green I see what you mean about resting fingers on the keys but I find I rest my wrist on the laptop and have my fingers in the air unless I am using them.

Thank you both for answering.

Another important thing to consider is that many people find their way around a keyboard using the home row and the feeling of the keys themselves. If you completely remove the keys, it’s quite difficult for many to type up to speed. The reason why I think while a touch keyboard works on phones is A) Typing speed doesn’t really need to be fast due to short messages B) People usually look at their keyboard while typing on their phones and B) People usually text with their thumbs compared to using a whole bunch of other fingers on a keyboard.

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I think it probably has a lot to do with why fix what isn’t broken? The keyboard works, is simple (in comparison) and universally supported. The added complexity and cost probably isn’t worth it for something that isn’t going to appeal to a lot of users.

There’s a reason they sell keyboard accessories for tablets, but not tablet keyboards for pc.

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This seems obvious, 1 touch screens aren’t really better in any way, they aren’t more durable, water is going to break them just as bad, and they are actually less resilient to impact and water, and then 2 being more expensive when they break and the initial cost, they also use more power which is bad on laptops, I can’t see a single positive to switching to them other than that random people would think it was cool.

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Yes and no. I believe that it is easier to waterproof a screen than it is to waterproof a keyboard. Impact resilience definitely goes to the keyboard through.

Some positives to switching to a screen keyboard over a physical keyboard would be a lot more screen area. A physical keyboard can only be used as a keyboard (and is really good at its job), but if you need additional screen area then it is nonfunctional at that. An onscreen keyboard gives you additional screen area when/if you need it and it also pulls double duty as a keyboard (even if it is not great as one).

It really depends on the use case for the device. In a phone, most people don’t use one with a dedicated keyboard because the extra screen area pulling double duty is more useful. In my opinion, in a laptop the benefit of extra screen area would not outweigh the cost to typing speed. However in some applications, where you only need to type infrequently, I could see it being useful to other people.

Can anyone tell me why keyboards haven’t been replaced with touch screens?

It’s not due to the fact that such notebooks wouldn’t exist. They do: https://www.lenovo.com/de/de/p/laptops/yoga/yoga-2-in-1-series/yoga-book-9i-gen-8-(13-inch-intel)/len101y0028

Even that one comes with a wireless keyboard 'cause the touchscreen just isn’t the right tool for typing.

As has been stated here already, typing is just more convenient on real keys.

I could imagine a hardware keyboard with near-seamless keys equipped with high-res micro LED displays on each key. You could display anything there, and still have real hardware keys. There may have been some attempts in that direction with low-res E-ink displays already.

key notable things: throughput and flow

modern phone input mechanisms are fairly well optimized for getting as much word out as you can with a single finger involved, but the output rate of a highly adroit screen swiping user – and i will admit some younger folks are very impressive with their rates – are still going to be vastly lower than a similarly experienced typist who can actually use both hands.

moreover, modern touch input mechanisms require a LOT of metaphorical hand-holding to make sure they’re actually producing what you intend; having to stop and fight with autocorrect or predictions constantly produces cognitive interruptions, damaging flow states. being experienced with wrangling your chosen autocorrect/prediction mechanism doesn’t actually prevent the interruptions from impacting flow.

then add in all the attempts to pretend to be a full keyboard on a touch screen, which … mostly don’t work, because we simply do not have the haptic technology to allow us to use our fingers to feel out the key locations in any kind of reliable sense, while also preventing spurious inputs during the finger alignment process. every attempt i’ve seen at a capacitative “full keyboard” to date has been cumbersome compared to a discrete keyboard.

It is a matter of different strokes for different folks.

Others here have already gone over the haptic feel of a keyboard, the ability to type more easily without looking, knowing where your fingers are resting, etc. On a personal note I am not the world’s best typist, going at 90ish wpm, but I drop down to maybe 20 on my phone while making far more mistakes. I would be willing to try a single piece of touch-detecting glass or plastic that is shaped like a keyboard because that might be interesting. I would miss the feeling of keys pressing but it would be a lot easier to type on than undifferentiated glass.

There are also some downsides to having a second screen that acts as a keyboard. On a device like a laptop you are going to have a pretty good hit to the battery life of your device if you have to drive a second screen. The extra draw from lighting the screen and the GPU draw is going to be a lot heavier than just driving some keyboard backlights that you can turn off if you don’t want them on.

On an additional personal note I just hate touchscreen laptops. I hate having fingerprints and smudges on my screen and it is the reason I will never go back to using one. I frequently rub my phone screen on my shirts and whatnot to clean them off. That second keyboard screen would be awful to look at for me personally.

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Obviously phones and tablets don’t use keyboards, the discussion was on laptops, and really even with minimal typing, the position of what would be the second screen is utterly worthless for it to be a screen, and laptops can already have multiple screens, in actual positions where they are useful, there really isn’t any reason at all for a laptop to have a second screen in place of the keyboard, it’s terrible awkward placement, it’s expensive, it’s bad for battery, they can already have extra screens, it would be terrible for typing, there’s literally no upside, you can buy second screens that are like 50 bucks and powered by the USB connection so they don’t even need an outlet, or you can buy a laptop that costs significantly more, requires you to buy a keyboard if you want to be able to type efficiently on it ever, and has a screen in an awkward spot that isn’t really very useful and gets bad battery life, one of those options has flexibility to suit every users needs, and the other is a net benefit for no one

Touch glass that is shaped like a keyboard might actually be worth something, it would be expensive, relatively fragile, but I would imagine you’d actually be able to achieve impressive typing speeds, there would be no travel or pressure necessary so typing time would be able to be minimized once acclimated to it, but there are already keyboards that destroy conventional keyboard layouts for typing speed if that was the goal, the conventional keyboard isn’t really very efficient in design, the staggered layout is bad for fingers and speed, the qwerty layout is bad and just the general idea of a larger flat surface is bad for speed, but the glass would require far less transition time than the other keyboard layouts that maximize speed, so it would have a pretty decent benefit IMO as a compromise between ultimately speed and the comfort of familiarity

My Dell 2-in-1 has a touch area for typing when it is in tablet mode, which is what started me thinking. I didn’t find it much different to using the physical keyboard.

But you could switch off autocorrect, I have most ‘helpful’ ‘corrections’ switched off in publishing software as 1) they know less than I do about English and 2) they try to ‘correct’ me into American.
As I said, my thoughts were a result of typing on my Dell laptop in its tablet mode when a full size keyboard appears.
I thought that people did have the ability to reliably hit keys by spacial awareness, on the ‘sit up and beg’ old typewriters you either hit them square the first go or they didn’t make a clean strike. But I do take your point about them perhap being cumbersome.

Good points. Thank you

I’m curious, what’s your typing speed/error rate and do you touch type (aka can you type with your eyes closed)?

No I can’t touch type but I used to be able to … its complicated :slight_smile:

I learned to touch type at an evening class in the 70s on old 60s typewriters and could do 100wpm plus but never used it afterwards except occasionally on my Dad’s old 40s typewriter when my speed was lower because of the force needed.

The next time I got involved with keyboards was when I had to incorporate computing into my teaching around the mid 80s, I never had time to brush up on doing it properly so have developed a strange hybrid which is reasonably slow but manageable.
I am very slow at the moment as my s and e keys are behaving erratically so I often have to go back and put them in, or take out extras … very annoying!

I hope that helps.

Hello Mary of England, the keyboard choice is something I thought about a lot too.

I believe the Framework is quite conservative in many respects because they are going for a long product life and don’t want anything too trendy that might fast become dated. That said, if you read my previous posts on the matter I am slightly disappointed that they did not take the opportunity to be even more traditional by using discrete key switches so they can be easily individually replaced if the misfortunes you cite were to occur.

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I’ve just checked the earlier posts you’ve mentioned and there really are lots of thing to consider. I would not like a curved keyboard as to me that is a waste of space, because typing is only about half of what I do, graphics is the other half.
I like having a large touch pad, I have dedicated graphics pads but find them less versatile than having both the pad and the keyboard within easy reach.

But yes, removable/replaceable keys used to be a good thing.