Friday, April 9, 2021

Keyboard Shortcuts and non-US Layouts

Thomas Kainrad (via Hacker News):

During the past 15 months, I have been thinking a lot about keyboard shortcuts and about how different applications handle them. I shouldn’t complain; I knew what I was getting into when I started to build KeyCombiner, an app for learning and looking up shortcuts and text snippets. Still, I didn’t quite know how much of a mess keyboard shortcut handling on the web is.

Do you use an international keyboard layout? Then you already know what I am talking about. You probably have had some issues typing keyboard shortcuts such as alt+/, or cmd+[. This post will help you to understand why this annoyance exists. However, the people who should most urgently read this post are web developers. Are you a web developer? Great! I will explain how you are currently letting down non-US users and how you can get us out of this mess.

There are also issues for Mac apps. A shortcut that makes sense in one language or is ergnomic with one layout may not be with others.


But most importantly, I miss Android keyboard. Yes, I know, that I can install other keyboards, but on the one hand they not as good as on android, on the other hand, if anywhere, on iOS, I’d expect the system keyboard to work properly). I am a Hungarian student in France, I type on three languages on a daily basis. My main problems are[…]

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[…] of bad keyboard shortcuts, here’s Thomas Kainrad (via Michael Tsai) explaining how web apps from big-name tech companies are not fully compatible with his German […]

One of the oldest international shortcut mistakes, probably originating on the Macintosh, i.e. Apple, is the shortcut for Undo.

Xerox(?) came up with the idea to play them all in a row, so that they're easily accessible:

Undo, Cut, Copy Paste: On a US kbd that's Cmd-Z, -X, -C, -V.

However, on a German kbd, where Z and Y have their places swapped, this should have led to Cmd-Y being the shortcut for Undo.

Sadly, that never happened, and so for us typing Undo is quite a hard reach with a single hand.

French is similar, though there the Z is not as far away as it's on a German kbd.

On my own macOS systems, however, I always change Undo to using cmd-Y in my German kbds (while cursing those apps where Undo is never just "Undo" in the menu but something like "Undo Remove" etc., and thus I cannot easily replace the shortcut via the Keyboard System Prefs. Fortunately, Xcode and BBEdit have their own customization that takes care of this)-

I’m surprised that for Mac apps, shortcuts aren’t localised along with the menu text. Seems to me that shortcuts should match the local language both mnemonically as well as for the keyboard layout.

"Wrong" shortcuts (like Cmd-Z) don't bother me too much, I think it would be odd if changing the keyboard would also change the shortcuts. A much bigger problem are shortcuts that just can't be typed on non-US keyboards, because the keys don't exist.

For example, there are a ton of keyboard layouts that don't have a dedicated key for square brackets, so any keyboard command involving [ will either require the user to also type an additional modifier, or will simply not work at all.

I have long planned adding support for shortcuts aware of physical keys locations on the keyboard to but collecting all keyboard variants for at least the most popular languages needs help for all around the world I sadly lack.

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