Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the Dvorak was looked with keen interest. In speed typing contests, Dvorak keyboard users were usually the winners. Seeing the difference between a Dvorak user vs. a qwerty user was amazing. While a qwerty user’s hands were moving all over the place, Dvorak keyboard users’s hands seemed to float over the keyboard. It was obvious that Dvorak was a better keyboard.
The problem was infrastructure. Secretarial schools taught qwerty. Typewriters were qwerty. Typewriter manufacturers wouldn’t produce Dvorak typewriters unless there was a demand. Secretarial schools weren’t going to teach Dvorak unless there were typewriters to use. It’s what we would call the network effect.
All of this changed with the introduction of the IBM Selectric typewriter.The Selectric had a typing ball. Changing the typing ball and you have a Dvorak typewriter. By the mid-1960s, typing pools were filled with IBM Selectrics.
Now, think of it this way: If you were a secretary in the 1960s and 1970s, and you could type 110 wpm instead of a mere 70 wpm, you’d be that much better a secretary and could demand higher pay. And, all you needed to do was learn the Dvorak keyboard layout and get a Dvorak typing ball. According to the Dvorak advocates, it would take a mere month to learn. Yet, this never happened. Secretaries, even though it could me a great increase in their skill, and more pay, never bothered to learn the Dvorak keyboard.
And, to me that speaks louder than any study. Millions of people in the typing pools could have improved their work skills and improve their salary and job prospects and all it would set them back was a $10 typing ball for a Selectric typewriter. Yet, it simply didn’t happen.
In the 1980s, as computers started to take off, and new users were coming into the typing realm, again it was thought that the Dvorak keyboard would take over. After all, you could easily switch to the Dvorak layout in software. The Apple IIc Plus even had a switch on the computer to switch the keyboard from the qwerty layout to the Dvorak layout. Again, Dvorak did not capture the market.
It wouldn’t be hard to be more efficient than the qwerty layout – a layout specifically designed to scatter the most common key combinations around the keyboard in order to prevent keys from jamming. Yet, the Dvorak, despite its scientific design and several chances to break into the qwerty monopoly never made a dent in the marketplace.
I do not normally worship at the idol of the Free Market, but their are times when the marketplace speaks and speaks quite loudly. The Dvorak could have become, if not the dominant keyboard, at least not a small cultish niche surrounded by acolytes who know The Truth unlike those sheeple who use that blatantly inferior qwerty layout. It had its chance in the Selectric era. It had its chance with the birth of the computer. Yet, qwerty still dominated.
Could Dvorak be a better layout? Maybe, but not so much better that it was worth learning, and then attempting to find a typewriter you could use. It wasn’t worth it to the secretaries in the typing pools. It wasn’t worth it to those who were learning to hunt and peck using computers the first time they saw a keyboard.
And, what about the typing speed contests? Why are all the winners Dvorak keyboard users? Maybe if you are obsessed with being the worlds fastest typist, you’ll use anything that you believe will give you an advantage. It maybe just like a baseball player who insists on wearing the same threadbare, decade old, lucky underwear whenever he comes up to bat – you think it helps.
Or maybe it is better. If everyone is typing 125 to 130 words per minute, and using a Dvorak keyboard might push you up to 135 words per minute, it would make just enough of a difference between winning and being an also ran. However, for the secretarial pool typing a mere 60 to 75 words per minute, the 3.5% gain in speed, so you could type 62 to 77 words per minute just wasn’t worth the effort.
The Dvorak era has passed. Look on an iPad or the iPhone, try to find the Dvorak layout. It’s there in iOS 7.
Select English Keyboards from Settings->General->Keyboards, and you’ll see it there on the very bottom of the list below U.S, U.S. International, U.S. Extended, British, French, Spanish, and under Belgian (remember, we’re talking about ENGLISH keyboards), there is Dvorak, right above the Colemak, another keyboard designed to replace the qwerty and take over the world.