Why do physical keyboards still have built-in numpads?

  • Normally I use a wireless keyboard without a number pad and a mouse right next to it. Having started a new job, I was finding my right arm somewhat more sore. This was confusing until I realized:

    • Each time I swap mouse/keyboard with my right hand I have about 13" EXTRA movement (numpad is about 6.5" wide)
    • My right arm is forced out slightly as compared with natural because of the extra distance
    • I do this movement roughly 2-5 times each minute depending on my current task
    • I use the number pad about 0.1% of the time my arm moves over it - maybe

    This results in roughly a quarter mile of extra movement during the day (again depending on what I'm doing, unfortunately most content creation in Office applications requires TONS of this, internet browsing can be high if vimium doesn't work, coding is much less, etc).

    Let me say that again:

    • I move my arm a quarter mile a day extra because my keyboard has a numbpad built-in

    This is awful HCI/UX/ergonomics. Spend some time doing normal tasks and pay attention to this for yourself.

    Yet in spite of this, I've found it hard to find non-numbpad keyboards. You can find them on laptops but stand-alone keyboards its much less common.

    Are there compelling reasons this change has not happened on hardware more commonly? I can really think of only one, that being inertia and perceived resistance to change.

    Probably because people use them...

    @MarjanVenema so do I periodically. Which is why I would prefer a standalone number pad which I can leave out of the way for the 99% of the time I'm *not* using it.

    @enderland Then buy a keyboard without the numpad. They exist.

    An even better question is "why is there a 'Scroll Lock' key / warning light ? " :-)

    Who says distance traveled has anything to do with soreness? If it were so, why don't we all use tiny keyboards?

    Just become left-handed. Problem solved.

    @PhillipW: The real question is: Why do people not make use of that key/warning light? Actually I've repeatedly done with my own configurations on Linux. However, Linux got ever more broken in its treatment of ScrollLock, and therefore I've ultimately given up.

    Most laptops (ie: not your fancy ultrabook) also have the number pad. People are used to them. They don't know how to type numbers another way.

    I would *never* buy a keyboard without a numpad, and I would avoid buying any laptop without one too.

    I have the numpad too but I never used it other than extra keys to play multiplayer games (like 8 people on a keyboard).

    I'm left-handed and this is a non-issue.

    This question is kind of like "why are there cigarette lighters in every car?" and the answer is "they are useful" but lighters were the size and shape of a microwave oven and positioned EXACTLY where you'd expect the handbrake/gear handle to be. We're missing something here.

    I am really surprised reading this question... I have always hated laptops without numpad and I would never buy a keyboard without a numpad. Numerical data, IP addresses etc. - it's all a pain if you have no numpad.

    One thing that hasn't been mentioned: many keyboard layouts require you to press shift in order to enter a digit without a numpad. Example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AZERTY

    @enderland those actually exist, I have one lying around. Combine with a keyboard without the numpad and you have exactly what you described for the cost of using 2 USB outlets (some keyboards have a minihub built in with 1 or 2 ports)

    Banks, phone network service centres, accounting all make good use of the num pad. I have never seen a bank clerk work without the num pad.

  • Keyboards are still sold with numpads because there is a demand for them. Many people use them a lot (think any form of numeric data entry), and would have their work negatively impacted without the numpad there.

    That said, there are plenty of keyboards (both bluetooth and wired) that don't have a numpad.

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    Another simple solution (if you're really committed to this) is to learn to use your mouse with your left hand. It's not as hard as it sounds, and is awesome with data entry to have your right hand on the numpad and your left hand on the mouse.

    At the risk of sending comments off on a tangent, I second the recommendation for using the left hand for the mouse. I started using a trackball with my left hand because of CTS. I find it works much better than using my right hand for mouse, arrow keys, and number pad.

    Yep, lots of keyboards without the numeric keypad out there. You may not necessarily find them at big-box store, but online there are a lot of stores - especially those specialized in ergonomic equipment - that sell them. I've been using a Kinesis Freestyle keyboard for a little over two years. The numeric keypad is an optional add-on that you can put wherever you like, if memory serves.

    Using the mouse left handed - more reasons: *apparently* it's good for your brain. I certainly have better fine-motion control since using my mouse left handed (for all but the finest photo-editing tasks). The angles are also better for your wrist (back on topic) avoiding problems in the first place -- and of course switching hands may help as well.

    Just look at Apple: they've done _the right thing_ and broken the tyranny of the minority users, by changing the keyboard type that is shipped by default, adding that hideous pad as an option for those who really need it. That is in my opinion nothing less than **the single most important positive change in ergonomics** to happen in the PC industry since its inception.

    I've started buying keyboards without numpads, basically because they give me 6 inches more space on a cramped desk! #ergonomics

  • Because the numeric keypad is useful.

    I enter my numbers and calculations with the numeric keypad, it is much handier this way.

    If you are allergic to the numeric keypad, you can now get an Apple iMac with the metal small keyboard, without numeric keypad — Apple still makes full keyboards too.

    Smart card readers are useful too, yet just a small percent of keyboards include them.

    @Mladen — But a smard card reader in keyboard is a bonus. A keyboard **is** for keys to type. The numeric keypad is a group of keys to type. So it's perfectly at its place on a keyboard.

    Any head-down data entry task involving numbers makes number pads a wonderful addition.

    "Because the numeric keypad is useful." Agree. For some people. I am a programmer, I NEVER use it.

    @Michel - I too am a programmer, and I _always_ use the numeric keypad. I keep my hands on the keyboard as much as possible and only switch to the mouse when something can't be done via the keyboard (and this is on a Mac). UI/UX - this is _much_ faster than switching input contexts.

    @StephenP: I also like to keep my hands on the keyboard, and the numbers are at the top of my keyboard, so imo the numkeypad is a duplicate which is in the (my) way.

    @Michel - On a french keyboard, the line of all digits needs Shift or CAPS LOCK. Besides, the numeric keypad has operation keys + - * / that are very handy for calculating.

    I disagree with it being generally "useful". The leading sentence should read "useful for a tiny fraction of the tasks performed today on a PC".

    Banks, phone network service centres, accounting all make good use of the num pad. I have never seen a bank clerk work without the num pad.

  • The numeric keypad long predates computer keyboards, it was basically the UI of the adding machines used by tens of thousands of accountants in the days before PCs.

    Personal computers were originally hobbyists' toys with limited application to business. Real businesses used real computers (mainframes and mini-computers from IBM, DEC, HP, DG, etc.) When accounting software packages like VisiCalc came out, computers that were formerly considered toys suddenly had a real business application. The productivity increases in small business accounting were undeniable and this pushed PCs acceptance in the business world and enabled the PC revolution.

    Business PCs were initially accounting machines and often sat on the accountant's desk, so of course once this was realized they were designed with the UI accountants were most familiar with, the 10 key numeric keypad (which old school accountants could operate by touch at blinding speed).

    When the Mac came out it didn't have the numeric keypad, which basically meant Mac's couldn't be used for accounting and it really limited their market at the time, so later Mac's included the numeric keypad. But soon computers were used for many things other than accounting, nevertheless the most popular keyboards had the numeric keypad so they could function as accounting machines if needed.

  • One aspect that no other answers have covered, is "Why do you use your mouse so much?". From an efficiency perspective it is clear that moving your hand to/from the mouse is a problem. The solution is not to make getting to the mouse easier (removing the number keypad), but to use the mouse less. Using keyboard shortcuts to access menus, buttons, and so on is a much more efficient thing to do than to move a hand to the mouse, and back.

    • Learn your application shortcuts.
    • file bugs and write blogs, etc. when your application does not make shortcuts meaningful
    • revel in the increased productivity you get when you can navigate and type without moving your fingers from the 'home row'.

    The solution is not to make the distance smaller, the solution is to make it ZERO.

    (Oh, and by the way, that is the benefit of that 'nipple' on many IBM laptops, etc.)

    Oooh, someone actually sees a benefit in the ThinkPad nipple !?

    Yes, lots of people buy ThinkPads *because* of the nipple. It is a whole lot more efficient to have access to a "mouse" equivalent without having to move the hand from the home row on the keyboard. It is the perfect ergonomic answer to this question IMO.

  • There are also left handed versions of the numpad keyboard :)

    Left side numpad

    Why do we have a numberpad on keyboard?

    As you know, computer is something really new when they were there. They were designed for business purposes at first, it was there before PC (personal computer) concept. As you can imagine the keyboard structure was taken from the typewriter, there was another gadget which played significant role in business or academic context and it was calculator.

    enter image description here

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    The first users were using computer also like a calculator and even today people who are really need to enter many numeric data. When they were entering data, they need to change the position of the data entry and later on numlock was invented. When the numlock is not active, the numpad acts like the arrows.

    There is a significant difference between the top one-line numbers between calculator layout in terms of speed and accuracy. If the user is not swimming in numbers, I think that the small keyboard will do fine but if he needs to enter many numeric digits, Numpad is something very useful.

    The main question for me was why we did changed the calculator layout when we are designing a new revolutionary device: Phone

    If you are also interested in "Task-specific performance effects with different numeric keypad layouts". You can check this paper: http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~tredick/2014in%20press%20Armand%20Redick%20Poulsen.pdf

    Hope it helps a bit.

    A numpad at the left ! I had never seen that.

    System administrators still get benefit out of the number pad because IPv4 address blocks like can be easily typed on them. Now if only they'd replace the multiplication asterisk with a colon....

  • The accountants were already mentioned, but the reason why numpad is needed by the people working with numbers is not the habit, it's the fact, that numpad allows to type numbers with one hand.

    The second hand is free for mouse, papers, drinking cofee, whatever. Very handy when inputing numbers from paper documents.

    Please notice that numpad has also comma, ENTER and 4 basic math calculations. So you can do a plenty of things with one hand! So you can do your job done, and use the alphanumerical part only for entering your password, in many cases.

  • In their early days, computers were used in a more rough way than now. Calculation-related tasks were performed on them more widely than playing games or creating graphics.

    The numeric keypad was a great adition to perform these tasks with ease, as the keys layout was easier to handle with one hand than the one in the top row, below the function keys.

    As found on Foldoc:

    A keypad that has become a standard feature of PC keyboards, consisting of a rectangular array of 17 extra keys at the right-hand end: 0-9, ., Num Lock, /, *, -, + and Enter. Apart from Num Lock, these typically duplicate the function of other keys but are designed to make entering basic numerical calculations as quick as on a digital calculator. It is often possible to assign completely different functions to these keys according to the needs of a particular application.

    Source: http://foldoc.org/Numeric+keypad

    Today, numpads are often relics and they are often removed or degraded to Fn+{letter keys}, especially on laptop keyboards.

    Edit: Improving my answer based on the comments:

    The numpads are still important in some usage scenarios (for example: accountancy, administrative etc.) where entering big amounts of numerical data is necessary. To suit users habits, the layout for the digit keys reflects even the one used in calculators or cash registers, with 789 keys on top and 123 on the bottom.

    There are also keyboards with numpads replaced with other modules to serve other users needs, like these for example:

    • A keyboard for Warcraft players: enter image description here
    • A keyboard with iPhone dock: enter image description here


    I would say the numpad is removed on laptops to have a smaller keyboard, thus smaller laptops, not because its an old design

    Yes, of course, I didn't want to say it is the only reason. Keeping the size of the keyboard small is important, and this corresponds with the actual need of having numpad being smaller and smaller. In other words, the least important features are reduced first. Of course there still are usage scenarios in which the numpad does the trick, especially these where you need to manually enter a lot of numeric data (accountancy be the example).

    Your last sentence is wrong. Plenty of people still make extensive use of the numeric keypad. Wouldn't want to operate any administrative/financial software without it! And why do you think laptops with separate numeric keypads are still in large demand?

    I have made an edit the comment to refer to this, most probably you have read it before I did.

    I would like to actually see the keys of the Warcraft keyboard. We cannot see them, they are too small on the photo.

    After a couple years of using an 11" laptop without a numeric keypad I found it odd to go back to a 15" with, because my hands were no longer centered relative to the screen. With an external keyboard, it's easy to skew it so the G and H keys are centered relative to the screen(s) rather than the entire keyboard.

    • Most manufacturers don't have any research division which would assess the real need for certain keyboard features, such as numeric keypad. So, they just take the most popular design and copy it.
    • Including numeric keypad costs nearly nothing for the manufacturer, and most people follow the logic "the more the better". People usually don't care if they have a set of keys which they never use.
    • Considerable number of users still find the numerical keypad useful - a lot of professions nowadays include entering numerical data.
  • Numpads are very useful when you need to type many numbers. It's much easier to have them all in their own area and it's much faster than using the ones above the letters.

    And while numpads are present on most of the casual keyboards, you will definitely be able to find a keyboard to fulfill your needs, whatever those may be.

    Is there any study you can cite to support the assertion that typing on numpads is faster? How great is this difference in speed? (Is it large enough to impact the design decided on?)

    It's at least 2x for me when entering long sequences of numbers. And I'm one of the relatively few who *can* touch-type the number row at the top of a normal keyboard.

    @3nafish You only have to use one hand. And I guess the addressing is somewhat simpler in a grid. And don't forget you have to press enter or /,*,-,+ etc. very often when entering numeric data. **And don't be so focused on US layout** - in my keyboard layout, the numbers on the alpha-numeric part of the keyobard are only accessible with the shift key - notebooks without a numeric pad are a pain to use.

    @Luaan — Exactly. On french keyboards, the top row of digits needs Shift. I press `Shift` `2` to enter a `2`.

  • In addition to the above (useful for accountants &c) function, you need to realize that for many people it is not a "numpad", it is the cursor key pad, and it is those extraneous, awkwardly arranged, duplicate cursor keys between the alphanumeric and cursor keys that are the problem. I'd love to find a keyboard without them.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM