Sunday, March 29, 2015

Part 4 of Who are you designing for? Or, thoughts on the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon. Or, trying to buy some more happiness.

Look at this ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2nd Generation Keyboard.  Look for the Home, End, CapsLock, Backspace, and Delete keys.  They are all moved around!

I'm actually totally fine with this, but only for uncommon reasons.  The complaints I've read about this are, first, that it breaks keyboard convention, and so screws up muscle memory for anyone switching between it and other layouts, and second, that these new placements are wrong and illogical.

I don't really care about laptop to desktop muscle memory conflicts because, when I'm using my personal or work desktop computer, I'm on this keyboard:
Which is different enough that its muscle memory doesn't interfere with laptop keyboard neurons (and when I use somebody else's keyboard, the fact that it's not Dvorak makes everything else trivial.  don't be weird and picky, or nothing will ever be to your satisfaction). And with a month of use I was getting pretty used to the new arrangement, and I do find them more logical.  Backspace and Delete have exactly the logical relationship implied by this keyboard arrangement (backspace to delete the thing to the left of the cursor, delete the thing to the right of the cursor) and I think this vindicates Jef Raskin.  Similarly, Home and End make perfect sense side by side and replacing the CapsLock, but a) I've never gotten around to replace CapsLock with Control, which is probably better, and b) I'm already used to Control-A for Home, so my left pinky is already good to go over there.

I did have trouble consistently hitting the innermost in each of the key pairs (End, Backspace), which I think shows that Fitts's Law applies to fingers as much as mouse pointers.  It's easy to reach the outermost of each key pair, because the finger goes quickly to the edge of the keyboard by touch and then selects the key, just as it's very easy to mouse to any point on the edge of the screen, but it was much harder to move the fingers half-way.  I think my fingers can only reliably go one and a half rows away from the home row, so the number row is never quite automatic.  Past that, I can reliably touch-type keys at the corners of the keyboard.  Anything in between requires a look, especially if the keys deviate from convention.

And that's the real problem with this design: it breaks convention for a minor improvement. Breaking convention imposes a cost on users to switch, and a minor improvement rarely justifies that cost.  Who are they designing for?

Well, it turns out that they learned pretty quickly.  The X1 Carbon 2nd Generation came out two years after the 1st Generation, but the 3rd Generation was released only one year later and it reversed all three changes:

Of course I'm thrilled about the mouse buttons and the function keys coming back.  I'm less happy about Home/End/Insert/Delete.  It seems like laptops have no idea or standard where to put these keys, and I think the most popular and successful convention is to keep the three by two row from the standard 101-key keyboard.

That's what they did on the X300 (look at the top right corner):

Why not just go back to that? Okay, so with the latest X1 Carbon, the 3rd Generation, the Lenovo designers abandoned the three major changes of the 2nd Generation keyboard and returned to the 1st Generation design, in a change that was rushed out in half the time of the previous version.  They saw the light, or the sales figures.  But I was stuck with a 2nd Generation.  Or was I?  Stay tuned ....

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