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Gadget designers, please stop being so left-hander hostile

Gadget designers, please stop being so left-hander hostile


April 18th, 2017

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Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

The Samsung Galaxy S8 will arrive in consumers’ hands this week, but one thing that has bothered me since the leaks and rumors began flooding the web is where the fingerprint scanner is placed. And no, it’s not just that it’s right next to the camera. It’s the fact that it’s not centered, making it awkward for left-handers to slide their index finger over without smudging the camera lens when holding the phone in their dominant hand.

I’ve become obsessed with my left-handedness ever since my father tried to switch me when I was in the first grade (admittedly a little late, but he succeeded in getting me to at least write with my right). In instances that didn’t involve writing, however, I rebelled. When school teachers in Bangkok, where I grew up, would tell me to switch my utensil hand from left to right during our lunch periods, I’d wait until they walked away to swap back. When I was bored in a college lecture, I’d pass time by taking notes with my left hand. It took a little longer, but I wanted to reconnect the part of me that was born this way, but was forced to change without choice.

Being hyper-aware of living as a left-hander in a right-handed world, I pick up on design biases daily when reviewing gadgets for my job. I’m mildly annoyed with Samsung and the S8 because the company has appears to be historically unfriendly to left-handers, with the stylus on the Note always stored on the bottom right side. This means I have to move my palm or switch hands back and forth each time I need to draw out the stylus. When the first Samsung Galaxy phone with a curved edge display came out, the company completely disregarded how left-handers could use the device.

Other tech leaders could do better, too; on Android, switching to a Right-To-Left layout requires digging deep into developer mode, making it seem as if that option is simply not important enough to display upfront. And why is Apple adamant on not centering the digital crown on its smartwatches? Using the Apple Watch upside down isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it’s one of the many things that suggest left-handed design is an afterthought for most tech companies.

to tech companies, left-handed design is just an afterthought

Maybe we’re entering into whining territory here. I’m not asking tech companies to make a left-handed version of every gadget out there just to appease the 10 percent of the population — about 700 million people — that may care. But it’s the thoughtfulness that counts, and it’s something I wish gadget makers and developers would consider more when designing an item meant to be used by everyone. It wouldn’t hurt to see the option to set up your phone as a left- or right-hander a la Nintendo DS, or just centralizing important buttons to the middle of the device. Left-handers have spent their entire lives adjusting — for once, it would be nice to see that consideration recognized in return.