Here’s a fun iOS 16 feature that’s almost completely slipped under our radar: native support for the Dvorak keyboard layout. Ars Technica reported this week that the touch-typing optimized keyboard can now be selected in Apple’s software alongside the more traditional QWERTY, AZERTY, and QWERTZ layouts. Previously, Dvorak on iOS has only been available via an external physical keyboard, or third-party software.
Although I’ve gone on the record as being a proud Dvorak user for over a decade, when it comes to touchscreen keyboards I’ve always been happy with QWERTY. The main benefit of Dvorak is the way it shares the workload equally between all of your fingers when touch-typing. It places all the vowels on the left side of the keyboard’s home row, and all the most commonly-used consonants are on the right, making them quicker and easier to reach.
But on a smartphone keyboard you’re not using all your fingers, you’re only typing with your thumbs. And, if anything, I think that makes it helpful that QWERTY weirdly spaces out all the most commonly used letters. Less chance for thumb clash, you know?
As you can see from the screenshot at the top of this story, the Dvorak layout looks a little odd on iOS because of the missing keys on the top left of the keyboard. That’s because those normally handle punctuation (the apostrophe, comma, and period, to be precise) which the iPhone keyboard hides away in a sub-menu. After trying to use it for five minutes I think I’m going to stick to QWERTY, but feel free to give it a go if you’ve got more patience.
Still, it’s nice to see the iPhone getting a little Dvorak love, and it seems Steve Wozniak agrees. Ars notes that the Apple co-founder has used the layout for around thirty years, after learning Dvorak from everyone’s favorite fake typing teacher on a flight to Tokyo in the early 90s. “I spent 5 hours learning it and never again looked at a QWERTY keyboard,” he told Ars. “That’s all it took.”
Apple has long supported the Dvorak layout on Mac computers with a simple software toggle, but, as pointed out by Ars, the 1984 Apple IIc went as far as including a dedicated hardware button to hop between QWERTY and Dvorak on US models (elsewhere in the world the same button apparently changed the keyboard between the local layout and a standard US keyboard).
To give Dvorak a go on iOS 16, open your iPhone’s Settings, then go to General, Keyboard, and finally “Keyboards.” Select your language, and you should see Dvorak listed as one of the available layout options.