Remember a couple of weeks ago, when I said sometimes I get an idea in my head and just cannot let it go? Well, my post yesterday on Dvorak left-hand had exactly that effect. I added it as an additional keyboard to my MacBook and am now struggling hard to “type blind” (what normies would probably call “touch-typing” 😂). I was actually astonished; in the first min­ute of my switch, I opened up a new note to practise my typing – and the word I started with, “hello”, I typed correctly and smoothly right off the bat. Sadly it didn’t last (not even one tiny little bit), but considering I haven’t used this layout in almost five years that’s only to be expected.

I mentioned yesterday that one of the major factors that got me re-fami­liar­ised with QWERTY after at least three years away was my smartphone keyboard. Considering that I’ve never really been able to consistently “type blind”, with no visual reference at all, I felt like implementing the same to convert back to Dvorak left-hand was gonna be necessary. This posed a problem, because neither the iOS default board nor SwiftKey, the alternate board I’ve been using for ages, offer that layout (even though standard Dvorak they do).

Thankfully, a bit of web-searching brought me to my answer. The iOS app Keybuild(external link) (AU$6, US$4, £3.50, 4€) lets you design your own keyboard layout completely from scratch. After a loooooot of fiddling to make the keys’ vertical alignment right and one “throw it out, start again from scratch” moment, I achieved this masterpiece:

an iOS keyboard showing letters in the Dvorak left-hand layout, some essential punctuation and function keys around the outsides an iOS keyboard showing shifted (capital) letters in the Dvorak left-hand layout, some different punctuation and same function keys around the outsides
My alphabetical pane in Keybuild, default mode left and with shift active on the right

Compared to the actual left-hand Dvorak layout, for real keyboards, this gets all the letters’ positions correct, and most of the punctuation (full stop, comma, apostrophe and hyphen are all correct; colon and semi-colon are in the correct position but I swapped around which one is hidden behind shift; question mark and exclamation mark are the added keys). I also added a pre-formed ellipsis (…) on shift + full stop, because I like pre-formed ellipses 😃 Function keys were placed mostly on the basis of where I found my thumb reaching in search of them, although I also added a dedicated “hide keyboard” key cos as a function it’s really useful.

The remaining panes are not really “Dvorak left-hand” at all, but I’m gonna share them anyway because I put a lot of work into them too and it’s a neat demonstration of what Keybuild can do. So first, my “numbers and symbols” pane:

an iOS keyboard, showing fractions, digits and symbols an iOS keyboard, showing fractions, digits and different symbols
My numbers and symbols pane in Keybuild, default mode left and with shift active on the right

So obviously, there are the digits 0–9. Then there are all the symbols you’d expect to see, things like hash, at-sign, brackets, plus, equals, dollar sign, ampersand, percent sign, and so on. Some of the symbols that were already on the alphabet pane are here again if they’re useful for maths, like full stop (decimal point) and hyphen (minus). Shift brings up some less-used symbols. Mostly these aren’t the symbols on the other side of the shift-switch of that key on the real layout (backtick and ~ is the exception, although like colon/semi-colon on the last pane I swapped around which one is behind shift). Most of them are logical pairings instead, like asterisk (multiplier) and the division sign, plus and plus-or-minus, dollar sign and cent sign, equals and approximately-equals.

Because I got to make all the customisations I could ever want to this layout, too, I added a bunch of symbols that aren’t on standard keyboards but I use them all the time, like the degrees sign, en-dash, em-dash, right-pointing arrow, and common fractions (in order of numerator first, denominator second, i.e. not numeric order at all 🤣). And also some mathsy symbols that I pretty much never use but hey why not, like square-root and permill.

Finally I have one last pane that was important to me to make, and it’s my “internationalisation” one:

an iOS keyboard showing some currency symbols in the top row, 3½ lines of accented Latin characters, and half a line of punctuation used in Spanish and Catalan an iOS keyboard, showing the same currency symbols and different Latin characters (some are capitalised versions of the equivalent non-shifted key)
My internationalisation pane in Keybuild, default mode left and with shift active on the right

Currency symbols make up the short top row. Of these I only ever really type euros and pounds, but those are the four that SwiftKey lists when you long-press $, so I added all of them 🤷🏻‍♀️ The second line is the accented letters used in Spanish, which I do type in occasionally, so having access to its special characters is somewhat necessary. The third line is accented letters used in other Romance languages… not used by me as often, but still sometimes, so there they go 🤣 Actually I’ve tinkered with this line a bit more since I took the screenshot, because I looked it up and found that French uses even more accents, but you get the idea. Anyway, the fourth line then is the Esper­anto accented letters (I haven’t written any Esperanto in years, and probably never from my phone, but hey, maybe one day??) and punctuation used in Spanish and Catalan (in the latter’s case, the interpunct from L·L geminada). With shift you get some caps, some more letters with diaresis, and German-style quotation marks… uh, just in case?

So there you have it: those are my layouts. As far as the behaviour of the Keybuild app’s keyboards, it is “missing” some features compared to the default keyboard and SwiftKey: no swipe-to-type, no predictive text, no autocorrect, etc.. But as I’ve used it, I’ve found I haven’t actually missed these features at all. It’s actually kind of a relief to be able to just type without having to constantly go back and change “if” to “of” or “put” to “out” or any of the other non-stop errors my old app constantly made (especially when I’d deliberately not used swipe to manually type one of these words that always confused it and it’d autocorrect it back to the wrong word!! arghhhh). Seems like those bells and whistles were anti-features all along, who knew.

As I mentioned I have, with great determination, typed this entire entry with the Dvorak left-hand layout despite not being able to see the keys’ positions on my laptop. The memory is sloooooowly coming back, although this is still one of the most painful typing experiences I can remember ever having 😂 Literally too, because it is jarring my shoulder how often I need to reach out the distance to the backspace key… sometimes over and over and over again because I have no way to regain my bearings on the board. Until I can get some suitable keyboard stickers, this is not sustainable for me to do full-time, I think. But, especially if I can get some “bilingual” (Dvorak left-hand/QWERTY) stickers so as not to lose my QWERTY fluency as the cost of relearning Dvorak, I’m interested in trying.