Why The Windows 8 Touch Keyboard Has No Numbers (And No Tab Key)

If you use Windows 8 on a touchscreen device, you'll notice that the keyboard is somewhat unusual. Unlike most conventional keyboards, it doesn't have a row of numbers, and it doesn't have a Tab key either. What gives?

Windows 8 isn't the first touch keyboard to put numbers on a secondary keyboard (it often happens with mobile designs), but the explanation on the Building Windows 8 blog goes into more detail about that absence:

Some of our early designs and prototypes had a number row too. But when we brought these designs in front of people, the feedback was strong that the keyboard felt :cramped" compared to what they were used to. We observed frequent errors and accidental invocation of keys, especially around the perimeter of the layout. This resulted in a number of changes, and it confirmed the decision to not include a number row. Here’s why: Including a number row meant adding a fourth row of character keys. When we optimize for keys with a targetable size, that means the keyboard must be that much higher. On a typical tablet device (say with a screen size of 10.6 inches) adding a number row would mean that more than half of the display would be covered by the keyboard. When we combined this with the observation that numbers are typed less frequently than most letters and common symbols, and you recognize that the extra keys are causing accidental key presses, we settled on including numbers on the separate number and symbol view.

A similar logic applied to the Tab key, which was on some of the early prototypes for Windows 8 but was also eliminated to reduce errors.

Both options remain in place on physical keyboards of course, and for dedicated keyboard shortcut junkies like me the touchscreen keyboard is not going to be a place to spend much time anyway. But if you're interested in how interfaces evolve, the whole post is well worth a read.

Designing the Windows 8 touch keyboard [Building Windows 8]


    Of all the keys to be included on the bottom row, they chose an emoticon shortcut key? Perhaps it is assumed that people will mostly be using the virtual keyboard/tablet devices for personal communication. Still, I could think of better keys. Has Windows 8 done away with the Windows key?

      Quite the opposite - it is more important than ever without the Start button. But why would you need it on a virtual keyboard?

        I don't know why you would need it on a virtual keyboard, I just noticed its absence. Surely it would be more useful than the emoticon key though - something which personally I don't think I've ever used (on any virtual keyboard).

          I believe the intention is for all windows 8 tablet hardware will have a permanent start button always available on the device. Why double up?

          Having used a Windows Phone for 18 months I used the emoticon key heaps - something I definitely miss when I switched to Android (along with the rest of the keyboard too).

            Yup, I use the emoticon key all the time too ^_^. Just wish that there was a standard set of emoji, and that pressing the key showed the actual emotes rather than the characters (who would guess that ":]" would produce a "heart" emote??)

            Download swiftkey. amazing prediction, heaps easier to use (long press for special characters, customisable long press time), and has the emoticon key. its fantastic

    Or to put it another way, we felt it was important that you had to flip the keyboards back and forward a lot if you wanted to have a secure password...

      I find the same problem on my iPad, you have to flip between keyboards 10 times to type a password. Very Annoying!!

      +2. They have a lot to answer for in terms of decreased web security.

    Long press the top row to insert a number - problem solved.

    MS should totes pay me for that.

      The can't use that because it is too much like Windows Mobile used to do it. :)

      I agree. And you'll need every dollar, because Apple will be knocking at your door serving you papers soon after!

    As a total aside, does anyone else find there's some sort of optical illiusion with the pictures of the keyboard above? To me they look like they're sloping down to the right a little.

    Seems strange to me to leave out the tab key. When filling in a form, the tab key is important for quickly navigating to the next field. If you're doing some typing on a touchscreen device, there's a pretty good chance that you're filling in a web form. (Hey, I'm doing it right now!). It's not great usability to force someone to touch the next field. I know that in iOS, they offer a "next" button that does the job. Is there an equivalent in Win8?

      Indeed. My personal solution would have been to halve the size of the backspace key and put TAB on the left of Q. Problem solved.

        This wouldn't work well as the top row would be offset to the right, which I would think would cause a lot of people to make a lot of typos - 'w' instead of 'e', etc.

          Slightly size down the enter key by a third and the offsetting issue is now solved :) tried it in paint and it looked like it would work, though a smaller enter button WOULD be a pain in the ass after a while... so I guess not either way.

          An emoticon button still for some reason irritates me lol

    It should be noted that the thumb keyboard - with half the keys split to each edge of the screen, includes the number pad in the centre, which would be perfect for passwords, etc. It also includes the TAB key. So if its an issue, you can just choose that layout instead. Choice is a wonderful thing.

      As long as it's choosing Microsoft, right motormouth? ;)

        Choose whatever you like, just don't try and tell me its a better choice unless you can say why or accept that it is not a rational decision. It seems the latter is much harder for most. They seem to feel they have to justify something they bought on impulse or because that's what all their friends already have. Even if they never looked at any of the alternatives, which is nearly always the case with Apple products, they still want to tell you that theirs is better. Just don't expect them to be able to tell you why. OTOH, I can tell you exactly why I choose the things I do (and am happy to do so at considerable length), even if it is just a matter of whim (which is exactly why I bought my Zenbook).

    I just reloaded my Acer Iconia Tab W501P with Windows 8 RP (was previously CP), and I get this great FULL KEYBOARD with NUMBERS and even the WINDOWS KEY

    If you hit the little keyboard key in the bottom right you can change the keyboard layout.
    There is the compact view (shown above).
    Split view (for typing with your thumbs).
    Pen (converts hand writing to text).
    Standard (all the keys you are looking for).

    You can also add additional key layouts like 'Dvorak for right hand' in control panel > language. This will affect your normal keyboard as well but it is easy to switch between layouts.

      Note that you need to change a setting to make the standard layout available.

      PC Settings (win+i, link at bottom) > General > Make standard keyboard layout available.

      I also suggest pinning the On-Screen Keyboard to the taskbar. The On-Screen Keyboard is a lot better than the Touch Keyboard. It is resizable and transparent.

    Is this why my laptop's top row of numbers don't function at all? Many people are having issues with the numbers on their keyboards not working in IE or Mozilla. Very strange. Microsoft, please work this issue, I had to copy my e-mail address from Notepad and paste it into this discussion session. I can't type an exclamation point, dollar sign, nothing on the top row of my keyboard.

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