Just use QWERTY!

The QWERTY layout is, I grant you, an illogical mess. I'm happy to hear your arguments that Dvorak is the one true way. Or that Colemak is several percent faster. But QWERTY is a standard now. Everyone uses it on their laptops and phones. It is used everywhere.

Except, it turns out, streaming services.

They use alphabetic keyboards. Worse, each one has a unique layout!

Want to search for that movie staring that guy who was in the film with that one who does the adverts for that thing you like? Here's the keyboards on the various streaming services I have:

Amazon Prime

Photo of the Amazon Prime search screen.

Three rows. A-M. N-Z. Then a full number row 1-0.

Apple TV

Photo of the Apple search screen.

A 6x7 grid. All lower case letters, with numbers appearing directly after the letter z.

BBC iPlayer

Photo of the BBC iPlayer search screen.

A 10x3 grid for the letters, and a separate number pad which goes 1-4, 5-8, 9-0 - unlike any other number pad I've seen.

Channel 4

Photo of the Channel 4 search screen.

The same letter grid as Amazon, albeit in upper-case. The space and delete are at the top, rather than the bottom.


(I'd learned how to take screenshots from my FireStick by this point.)
Screenshot of the Netflix search screen.
The same A-F grid as Channel 4 - but space and delete are reversed.


Screenshot of the UKTV Play search screen.
The same A-F grid as C4 and Netflix. But this adds a "Clear" button. Oh, and numbers start from 0, not 1.


Screenshot of the ITVX search screen.

The same A-J grid as the BBC, but space is bigger and delete is somewhere else. Also, the numbers are on the top row like a QWERTY keyboard!

BTW, does anyone need a # & £ button on a search?


Feel free to supply your own screenshots for whichever streaming platform you prefer.


What I don't understand is why they're like this. I assume each of these services have conducted extensive user testing to see what layout people prefer, and which is faster for the average user, right? Do none of their users have a smartphone? Do they turn away from their smart-TV and handwrite letters with a quill and ink?

I get that an A-Z layout is more logical than QWERTY. But surely there are more people who use QWERTY than not? Perhaps the technophobes generate more support calls? Maybe it's just too complicated to ask users if they want a choice of layout?

But this is my plea to anyone who has to display a virtual on-screen keyboard. Just use QWERTY!

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21 thoughts on “Just use QWERTY!”

  1. says:

    I wish those apps had a either an option to connect to a Bluetooth keyboard (there are apps for at least Android which will make it appear as a Bluetooth keyboard) or - and I think I've seen this before - have the option to scan a 2d barcode or enter a code (YouTube TV does this IIRC) and then control via your phone instead of having to mangle the onscreen keyboard: especially when it asks for your password and you've got a nice 46 character length mixed-cased with symbols and numbers password you've got to then hunt and peck to enter.

    1. Alex B says:

      Roku devices can pair with an app that - on Android, at least - allows text entry via a standard system keyboard input device.

      1. says:

        FireTV sticks/boxes have an app you can use, which have a text entry option which pops up the regular phone keyboard. What bugs me are the TV apps that accept this, but don't allow you to paste in text - they usually only accept the last letter of the paste 🙁

  2. Stuart Hall says:

    Honestly, the only correct way to handle login to an online service on a smart TV is via a URL and code (or QR code) that lets you authenticate on your mobile device (complete with it's convenient touch screen and password manager!) before handing an authenticated session back to the TV. Anything else, whether qwerty, abcdef or dvorak is an absolute nightmare if you have a password of even moderate security.

    It still astonishes me at the lack of consistency here (and the fact that some mainstream services still don't offer this).

    1. @edent says:

      To be clear, these are search keyboards. I haven't looked at what the login UI looks like. But I think most of them ask you to log in on a different browser and then type in a short one-time PIN.

      1. Stuart Hall says:

        Ah, fair point indeed.

        Worth noting that arguably the two biggest (Amazon and Netflix) didn't support this until very recently (and maybe not at all on some less recent TVs), which is quite astonishing (and brutally painful on the thumb!)

        The searching keyboard is certainly annoying, but marginally mitigated by the fact that 3-4 characters is usually enough to get you a partial search and have you clicking on the correct thing. Perhaps there's a feature gap there:

        "You typed H$0g - would you like to use any of the following passwords which are popular with other users...?"

  3. Alex Gibson says:

    Why? Perhaps because QWERTY is only an English-language standard. In France it would have to be AZERTY... etc
    If they stick to the Latin alphabet they can cover EMEA with one set in software.
    This is pretty lazy as most TVs and streaming services are heavily regionalised. But it's an explanation?
    Then, there's navigation:
    QWERTY(etc) is a keyboard standard - you get flash custom keyboard people who make vertically stacked mechanical keyboards... but these are neeeeerrds! 99.9*% of keyboards have weird X-Y offsets. Do you represent this onscreen to maintain the keyboard analogy, or line them up vertically to facilitate navigation on a horrible squashy TV remote membrane key? Once you do that, does it break the keyboard analogy and just look weird to people, so they'd prefer the alphabet?
    If the last thing is true, at least for the love of God all the services should get together and come up with a standard rows/columns layout.
    Finally, all of this overlooks the massively better way to input text on a TV remote - Nokia style multi-tap/T3. I really wish this were an option on my TV which has a numeric keypad right there. But no good on the latest Apple or Amazon minimal remote.
    Navigating letter by letter via any arrangement of the alphabet is an awful experience that needs to die.

  4. Michael Kohne says:

    I suspect the assumption that they did user testing on this is incorrect. The wide variance here makes me think someone said 'Well obviously...' and went from there.

  5. DinoNerd says:

    I vaguely recall encountering something similar in a (bad) conversion of a game from console to PC. As it happens, that was the only console-to-PC conversion I ever played.

    It's possible I'm misremembering, but I wonder whether that was habitual in such conversions, or even in console games, and thus the source of the virtual TV thing you report.

  6. says:

    But my question is: Why do they need to have their own virtual keyboards? Why not leave the job to the system-wide virtual keyboard that will be uniform across all apps and that the user can customize...?

    System-wide keyboard input even supports typing in using your phone, through either the Google TV Android TV remote control app, or the Nvidia Shield TV remote control app.

  7. said on mastodon.me.uk:

    @Edent Argh!
    My telly, a Panasonic, has a remote with letters on the number keys, just like many a mobile phone back in the day. Why can’t I use that to type? I still know instantly that if I wanted to write “doc” I’d need to type 3666222, and I haven’t used one of those phones in over a decade! It’s much faster than using the on-screen keyboard. I just want to make good use of this defunct knowledge 🙁

    Reply | Reply to original comment on mastodon.me.uk
  8. Dave says:

    As someone who has just moved to a country with extra letters I'm struggling with my just my PC and having to switch between different keyboard mappings with similar but not identical punctuation keys when in different languages.
    Being in a monolingual environment at least removes that problem.

  9. Lee says:

    I'm faster on A-Z screen keyboards. When I encounter a QWERTY layout (it's been a while, but I have seen them!), I have to search for letters. Now if they'd all just get a standardized grid...


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