iOS 16 Brings 86-Year-Old Dvorak Keyboard Layout to the iPhone, but It’s Not a Big Deal

It makes little sense for thumb typists

  • iOS 16 adds support for the Dvorak keyboard layout. 
  • Dvorak is designed to make touch typing faster on hardware keyboards.
  • Thumb typists should probably stick to the QWERTY layout they already know.
individual black keyboard keys on white table

Sofya / Unsplash

The iPhone now has an option to use a Dvorak keyboard. Yes, Dvorak, the keyboard layout designed to speed up touch typing with two hands on a full-sized physical keyboard.

On the iPhone, I'd wager that almost all typing is done with the thumbs. If you're running iOS 16 on your iPhone, grab it now and open up your keyboard settings. You'll see an option for Dvorak at the bottom of the list, under QWERTY, AZERTY, and the truly infuriating (for non-German users) QWERTZ layouts. Pick Dvorak, and enjoy your newfound… what, exactly?

"A keyboard layout which causes you to alternate hands more will help for a phone keyboard as well, because [your] typing will be faster," iPhone user, IT professional, and long-time Apple expert Zorinlynx said in a MacRumors forum thread participated in by Lifewire. "While you're typing a letter, if the next letter is on your other hand, you will naturally start moving your thumb towards it before you finish typing the first one. This speeds things up noticeably."

Faster? Easier?

Dvorak, which would be called PYFGC if it followed the convention of QWERTY and named the first five keys on the top letter row, is designed to be faster and easier to use for touch typists. Its main design intention is to spread out commonly used letter combinations across both hands.

Some of Dvorak's advantages carry over to the iPhone, even when you’re only using your thumbs.

Combos like "d e" and "e d" require a dextrous and small wiggle of your ring finger under QWERTY, but under Dvorak, you use a different hand for each. Dvorak also tries to alternate keystrokes between hands for common English words, and the layout puts the most-used letters on the home row, so around 70 percent of your typing is done there. (For a longer list of the intended improvements, see the Wikipedia article.)

It sounds amazing, but even when used as intended on a full-sized computer or typewriter keyboard (Dvorak has been around since the 1930s), it doesn't offer the huge jump in speed you might hope for. Even long-term Dvorak users don't necessarily think it's any better.

And that's before we get to iPhone thumb typing. 

Dvorak on the iPhone

Some of Dvorak's advantages carry over to the iPhone, even when you're only using your thumbs. Alternating key presses between hands, for example, might actually be more useful for thumb typists, but the home-row advantage enjoyed by touch typists on physical keyboards is lost. 

The home row is where your fingers rest when they're not anywhere else. It's the middle letter row on a QWERTY layout, and if most of your keystrokes are done there, you barely have to move your hands at all (just the forefingers to reach the G and H keys). 

If you're holding your phone now, you'll see this is a disadvantage on the little handheld thumb keyboard. Moving thumbs left to right across the home row is more awkward than moving them up or down. I don't know if QWERTY is any better in this case, but it seems that Dvorak might actually be less usable on a phone, based on a quick test of wiggling thumbs over the home row. 

Dvorak keyboard option on iPhone and iOS 16

"I don't see the point. Typing with your thumbs or with one finger on the keyboard is far different from touch typing with all your fingers on a full-sized keyboard, which is where [the] Dvorak layout offers improvement over QWERTY," says phone keyboard user walter_white in an Ars Technica comments thread on this subject. 

Another disadvantage of Dvorak is you have to buy a Dvorak keyboard to use it on a computer. You could always just use a QWERTY and ignore the letters, but as someone who used a non-English layout Mac keyboard for years, even having the parenthesis keys shifted one key to the left or right can throw you off. 

Also, Dvorak is optimized for the English language. While Dvorak versions exist for other languages, the letter layout is based on the frequencies and common letter combinations of English. 

It seems, then, that Dvorak on the iPhone is mostly useful for people who already use it elsewhere. And that's excellent in terms of accessibility, but for the rest of the QWERTY-using world, this will do little to change our preferences.

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