Contributor: Odinekachukwu Ishicheli
When Ray McEnaney types, he’s confident it’s the most efficient way possible. But it’s not typing school that’s given him this feeling. It’s his keyboard. Frustrated with the limitations of the traditional QWERTY layout, McEnaney spent the last decade designing a new one. Considering that the universal key arrangement was designed in the typewriter age — patented in 1878 — an alternative seems due. This one’s inspired by a bee.
McEnaney wasn’t satisfied with other typing options people turn to — the most prominent being Dvorak, which aims to minimize how far the fingers travel and reduce fatigue. He thought the learning curve was too great: Users need to seriously commit to becoming proficient. That’s how we get to the BeeRaider, his oddly shaped keyboard that resembles a bee in flight, with two “wings” of keys arranged on either side of a radial center. It’s a buzzy concept: The layout is larger, with the keys you need most at the center (which gives you less fatigue, McEnaney says). Keys that he considers “more useless” — including Q, K and X — are placed farther away.
“… it’s an implicit knowledge of where the fingers go; the motor system learns where the keys are, and that’s how you learn to type.”
Kristy Snyder, cognitive neuroscience researcher at Vanderbilt University
He promises that anyone can become a capable BeeRaider typist in 20 minutes. The secret? The key position and the related mnemonic learning tools, through which you practice typing phrases like “I hate waste excess” and “Just before dawn starts.” It’s a little weird to type in such a fashion, but I was surprised at how natural it felt after five minutes, my fingers somehow finding the letters they needed. Having the alpha characters — the keys used most often — grouped together really helped memory retention as well.
But Kristy Snyder, a cognition and cognitive neuroscience researcher at Vanderbilt University isn’t sure that keyboard layout can affect typing speeds. She’s been experimenting with typists’ memories of their keyboard, and she found that most can only identify half the keys they use daily. “We think that it’s an implicit knowledge of where the fingers go; the motor system learns where the keys are, and that’s how you learn to type,” she says. She found that using Dvorak and QWERTY layouts were unconnected to retention, “suggesting that typists know little about key locations on the keyboard, whether they are exposed to the keyboard for two hours or 12 years,” she says.
This makes the likelihood of the BeeRaider taking off more plausible; if people have no intrinsic recollection of keys, they should be open to a new way of working. “Using a new system could be better than QWERTY,” Snyder says, but having to change key mapping could be difficult.
If you’re up for the challenge, the BeeRaider is available for preorders at $112.49 (N20,250), and you can choose between the optimized layout or the radial QWERTY design. Mobile users can try BeeRaider’s Android app ($1.92; N350), though it’s somewhat tricky to use on small screens. All in the name of being able to tap out “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” at superspeeds.