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Tech update: Alphabetical keyboards and Bluetooth alternatives to mobile screen(“virtual”) keyboards

March 29, 2012

With all of this writing I do; I have never been able to touch type. Making it harder, is the completely “randomly” arranged QWERTY keyboard. That was actually put together to keep frequently used letters apart, so the key rods would not get tangled from typing them fast. Even with new technology; first all the letters on a rotating ball, then a print wheel, then dot matrix printers, finally computer screens and printers, —all replacing the old rods; they kept the same layout, because of familiarity.
But since I could not seem to get used to the layout anyway; I long wanted to try an alphabetical (“ABC…”) keyboard, figuring then maybe I could memorize where letters are, and have a better chance at touch typing.

First there were hardware keyboards for the desktop. I had been looking at the UK-based ABCKeyboard, but then it was pulled from sale in the US, and eventually folded. Yet then, a similar one appears on Amazon for only $34, and wireless, even; and I get it. E-Z Keyboard. (Typing this with it now!)
E-Z Keyboard

Before that, I had gotten the ABC Soft Keyboard for my G1 phone. By the time I had upgraded to the Samsung Galaxy S2 (forgoing a built-in keyboard to gain the AMOLED screen, at last!), ABCSoft had gone under, but a new app was the Dextr Kepad: http://textwithdextr.com/ (They hadn’t updated the site from when it wasnt out yet).
Dextr KeypadThumbz

Switching to the new arrangements is not as easy as I thought! I didn’t realize how used to QWERTY I really was! I figured I was never able to master QWERTY, so I would have like a blank slate for alphabetical, and be able to develop a more logical system for remembering where keys are. But I see I really do remember QWERTY (this is called “muscle memory”), and look for the keys in that order, and get “lost” at times; especially for letters now off to the sides, or if I’m already on the sides, I’ll fumble finding one in the middle. (Guess I did become quicker on QWERTY, though I still was not confident enough in it to be touch-typing).
The Dextr I find is a bit easier, perhaps because of it being typed differently, with the device being held and pressed with thumbs, instead of pressed from above; plus the more square layout, and with the vowels in a straight column, and not looking like the standard QWERTY layout; (though it’s easy to miss the small keys, especially the ones further away, and the app sometimes crashes).
So for the E-Z Keyboard, I’ll have to come up with some sort of system like remembering what’s left and right. (This would have been good like when I first got a computer, and was not yet so used to QWERTY).

What’s good is that with modern wireless, I can have both ABC and QWERTY keyboards in at the same time, and switch back and forth if I need to type faster, or I want to practice (like now).

In other news, in order to offset the great inconvenience of not having a built-in mobile keyboard, I found very cheap Bluetooth keyboards on Amazon; which were made primarily for iPod, but now include Android as well. The first I tried was the Mini-Suit keyboard, for only $12! It was about the size of the phone, and made it a little bit easier. But keeping both it and the phone in an old pocket calendar wallet (so it would be somewhat like a flip keyboard phone), and taking the phone out when using it by itself, I put it down and forgot it, and it was taken.

So then I figured I’d find a bigger, flexible one (like the wired USB one I use on the Wii), and got the Menotek Flexible Bluetooth Waterproof Mini Keyboard.

To distinguish the different ABC layouts, we could use a number-of-keys-per-row format:

ezkeyboard and ABCkeyboard (defunct): 10-9-7 (A-J; K-S; T-Z) QWERTY layout with keys remapped alphabetically (some Big Keys products also).

Big Keys: 10-10-6 (A-J; K-T; U-Z)

ABC Soft Keyboard (defunct) mobile screen version of 10-9-7 layout

Dextr keypad: 4-4-6-6-6 (A-D; E-H; Z,I-M; N-S; T-Y; vowels in straight column)
My suggestion: (A-D; E-H, I-N, O-T, U-Z; vowels in jogged column, first in each line, or the first two rows can move to the left so that the vowels would be both first in each row and back in a straight line)

The REACH Special Keyboards™ http://www.ahf-net.com/specialk.htm is a virtual one that is simply 26 narrow keys in a single row, followed by:
Ctrl, Alt Shift, Spacebar, Shift, Enter
then, 0-9, right and left arrows, Back, Del
and then flat Escape, Caps Lock, Tab, Left, Right, Up and Down

I also like the UPS man’s little keypad (Delivery Information Acquisition Device: see http://www.pressroom.ups.com/mediakits/factsheet/0,2305,1036,00.html; which also is alphabetical, laid out in a perfect square; like the little numeric keypad on calculators/adding machines, and the side of most keyboards:

UPS DIAD IV 7-7-7-5 (A-G; H-N; O-U; V-Z, numbers overlaid on central keys)

New DIAD V 6-6-6-6-2 (A-F; G-L; M-R; S-X; Y, Z, numbers above)

DIAD III 4-4-4-7-7 (A-D; E-H; I-L; M-S; T-Z; wraps around numbers, upper right)

DIAD II 4-4-4-4-4-4-2 (A-D; E-H; I-L; M-P; Q-T; U-X; Y, Z numbers on right)

DIAD I 4-5-5-5-5-2 (blank key-A-D; E-I; J-N; O-S; T-X; Y,Z,BSp,Sp numbers on right)

 

The other big tech acquisition was the Betabrite Prism RLB (red-lime/yellowgreen-blue 26 color) sign:

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7 Comments
  1. Thank you for you engaging, informative material. I believe many of the views you have mentioned in your article are sound and unique. It’s obvious you are a talented writer.

  2. Found a few more alphabetical keyboards.
    First, the Dextr. came out with a Beta version, but this does not allow you to turn off the word suggestion bar, so in landscape mode, which I’m most comfortable using, I have only a three line view of the text on most applications (very hard to work with) and cuts off any view of the text on Jota+’s beta text (since that app adds a task bar).
    It also constantly is very slow in large files, whenever it is closed and reopens (including when the screen is waken out of sleep, and even rotating!) It then appears to crash (sometimes taking the text application itself with it), but if you click “wait”, then it works until the next interruption.

    Searching for alphabetical keyboards on Play Store again, I find Semialphabetical keyboard (http://www.semialphabetic.com © by Jose Javier Dominguez), which has the numbers on top, unlke the others, all then has the consonants in reverse rows, with the vowels on the bottom (basically, 10-11-5):
    I had to pay for this, and thought it would be worth it (Can be hard to get used to the upside down arrangement, and the vowels being out of place, but otherwise is like the default Samsung or Android keyboards), but it has a few glitches; namely when adding to existing text the space key jumping the cursor position to either later in the line, or (usually) the next line; and the apostrophe overwriting the whole word! (this is a problem even when not writing new test). When I reported this, I was just given a refund.

    Next was simply “Alphabetic Keyboard” (http://www.androidfreeware.net/download-alphabetical-keyboard.html Developer: Arise Peter M) Simple 6-6-6-6-2; not attempt to group the vowles together in any way.

    This one also fills up almost the entire screen when rotated to landscape (It stretches out widthwise from what is shown), and keeps crashing on my Galaxy phone just on trying to open it, and on the Galaxy Tab, it will come up OK, but crashes if you do certain things.

    The other one I ran across is the Compass Keyboard (https://code.google.com/p/compass-keyboard/wiki/CompassKeyboard).
    It has tiny keys so that it can fit all the letters (again, 6-6-6-6-2), numbers, and several symbols all at the same time, and even allows you to change the size of the keyboard!

    Problem is, it really consists of just ten actual keys; each key containing nine characters. (That is, the top center three. Other keys have four to six characters). The center character is default, and for the other eight, you have to move your finger in that direction (hence, “compass”). It’s really hard to get that to work, even when the size is increased, and it seems to be not aligned properly (Have to move my finger really far to get it to change characters, and it doesn’t even to seem to work at all on many of them).

    Looking again just now, I run across the Cintero Kids Keyboard. (http://www.appszoom.com/android_applications/productivity/kids-keyboard_cuhyr.html) THIS one uses the left-justified 4-4-6-6-6 layout I illustrated (with Dextr graphics) above! It even has room to tack a standard 3×3+1 number pad to the right!

    BUT… It does the same exact thing as the Semi-alphabetical keyboard |:-€
    Don’t know if it’s related to the other one (Dominguez). But at least it’s free.
    It does the same thing on the Tab as well (Never tried the other one on the tab, because it wasn’t free), and also, in landscape mode, it stretches so that the keys are very vertically thin.

    So overall, it seems that Dextr is still the best, except for its own glitches, and also, for having all four directional arrows to move the cursor (most of these don’t have any). Also, the “thumbs” layout for landscape mode, especially on the tab, where it’s really hard to reach the middle of the screen with the thumbs.

    It’s like when I’m working with a big file, I need to switch out of Dextr. If I’m adding more than one word to text, I can’t use Semialphabetic or Kids Keyboard. If using the phone, [Arise] Alphabetic doesn’t work.
    I can just use the original Samsung keyboard (no longer used to QWERTY on a screen with fingers), but I’m often moving blocks of text, but for some reason, the “select text” beginning/end sliders don’t come up with this one (or it does come up for an instant, but then just leaves a selected word without the ability to select more/less). So I then have to switch back to the Dextr (It doesn’t work on Semialphabetic/Kids either). Checking it again, I’m seeing this problem might be in landscape mode only.

    Seems if I would just make myself become used to portrait mode, I might overcome some of the problems with these keyboards.

  3. John Lambie of Dextr put up a diagram of the original alphabetical typewriter layout:

    This is my first time seeing the original layout. (Heard about it, but no one would show a diagram of it). Didn’t know the bottom row was reverse. You can see that’s where the surviving “(Z)(X)…(V)” part of it came from.

    Here’s an article that shows the evolution of the layout: http://qwertywtf.com/qwerty-dirt-1/

  4. “Alphabetical Keyboard” (Arise M Rayamangalam; was previously “Arise Peter M”) I happened to find just redid their app, fixing the crashing problem, but also adding numbers (in a single row) and even several punctuations (10 keys in another row above the numbers), to the main board.

    It doesn’t have its own landscape mode, though it works in landscape. It remains a big square on the left side of the screen, and thus cuts off most of the text field, and the bottom rows are cut off. In portrait mode, it still seems to be too big for the screen on the phone. The right column is mostly off the screen. (On the tablet, in either rotation, it remains a small square on the lower left of the screen).

    So Dextr is still the best.
    They’ve since done some updates, allowing you to remove the suggestion bar that took up text space. Whatever other bugs there were, were corrected. Even hooked up with the owner, on FB, and as one of the earliest users, he just had me do a little survey two days ago.
    Still hoping they provide and option to put the “Z” in place. Of the two layouts I’ve suggested (see OP), the one on the right is apparently already patented by someone. Perhaps, Cintero, since it’s then nearly identical to their “Kids Keyboard” layout. Didn’t know key arrangements were patented.

    Also, had quickly lost the little phone sized bluetooth keyboard (and this was 3 years ago, already!) and replaced it with one of those floppy keyboards (like the USB version I was using for the Wii). Don’t use it that much, though.

    • Suddenly got an automatic update for Rayamangalam keyboard on my tablet, adding landscape configuration.
      It’s now one small row (the top keys, with the ten punctuations and ten numbers), and three rows (12-10-4), A-L, M-V and DEL, then CAPS, period/comma, W-Z, space, three more punctusations, and ENTER. It only stretches to about 2/3 of the screen width (which does make it still difficult to type with the right thumb while holding it).
      Also came to realize that the CAPS key automatically locks. (Dextr and others, it only locks if you hold it, like a regular “shift” key on hardware keyboard).

      The new version apparently isn’t compatible with the phone.

  5. Another interesting keyboard, from a display inside cockpit of 767-300 aircraft, for receiving text messages of flight plans, landing clearances, and other instructions.

    It’s the two simplest alphanumeric layouts: 3×3+1 and 5×5+1, right next to each other.

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