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Keyboard shortcuts versus mouse


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Historically before the introduction of graphical user interfaces driven with a mouse, keyboard shortcuts were popular. The mouse has proven so persuasive that for many keyboard shortcuts have not played much of a role. But that was before Electron.

Electron has come to dominate SaaS apps. Electron has poor mouse support compared to native desktop apps. Apps are run from browser tabs and a data connection a must. The priority on smartphones and tablets puts keyboards second. The mouse support of apps is more limited and selection of multiple paragraphs or multiple notes with a mouse cannot be assumed.

Selection of multiple notes in Evernote 10 is not possible, at least in the browser, which seems to be the only version with any future. Is there another way?

My observation is that Electron SaaS apps better support the keyboard as the mouse. Commands through keyboard shortcuts are hard to learn but quick to use. I have spent a week learning 65 keyboard shortcuts for RemNote. It has thrown new light on Evernote.

Evernote always has had keyboard shortcuts. The recent Evernote roadmap would suggest they are coming back. Not all keyboard shortcuts from the Legacy software are currently supported by the Evernote 10. An update including the keyboard shortcuts documentation is also planned.

When this work is completed, Evernote 10 would be faster to use. Currently clicking through multiple menus to complete a task for every note makes this app laborious. This why I currently find myself doing the work elsewhere.

RemNote demonstrates that even with mouse support for only the most basic commands that an Electron app can still get the work done. As keyboard shortcuts steepen the learning curve, some may not welcome it. Once the keyboard shortcuts are learnt, however, there is considerable convenience.

There are also problems with the implementation.

  • In Chromium browser, the keyboard shortcuts for the apps best not conflict with either the operating system or Chromium. The operating system and Chromium have many shortcuts and they can be difficult if not impossible to disable. The Google Chrome forum is frustrated that keyboard shortcuts are hardwired into Chrome. For apps in a kiosk, keyboard shortcuts are unwanted. For developers working in a tab, accidental closure of a tab can mean loss of work.
  • The OS has the first choice of the best keyboard shortcuts. The browser reserves the best of what remains. This leaves the Chromium app to pick up what is left, often the lesser of the evil. The app shortcuts will be used more often, leaving them at odds with the operating system and Chromium shortcuts. This is far from optimal.
  • None English language keyboards are a weak point for many apps. English only has 26 letters. Many languages have many more - particularly vowels. Keyboards have a similar number of keys in most languages. Symbols are move to unlikely places and useful vowels added in their place. Keyboard shortcuts are usually designed on a US English keyboard. Different keyboard shortcut maps for each language are often not provided. RemNote app permits the simple relocation of keyboard shortcuts. Still the changes are significant. Just adding three vowels and one consonant for German results in the reallocation of the almost half of the 65 keyboard shortcuts.

Relief may be in sight with function keys making a comeback. Many keyboards have function keys which are rarely used but could be assigned scripts for keyboard shortcut sequences for common workflows. This proves remarkably helpful.

It will be interesting to see what Evernote does with keyboard shortcuts.

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  • Tamagotchi changed the title to Keyboard shortcuts versus mouse

Working with keyboard is always faster than having to reach for mouse.
Desktop apps are far more productive with keyboards. This trend of merging apps for desktop and touchscreen with same code base has ruined many apps.

This results in lowest common factor product.

I prefer to use apps designed for native OS as UX is lot better with that design.

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THX for this summary. I'm a also "keyboarder" (having used graphical CAD programs that even had a so calls "Button mode" in which every single button hit triggered functions).

In my opinion, they should not focus on streamlining all keyboard strokes within one application over all system UIs. Most of the users are living in their world (Windows, Apple, Linux, ...) and will take one other finger-centered device like a smart phone or tablet (or both but from one world).

So keyboard shortcut should go along with the specific world's habit. This makes it easy to use for customers (beginners and professionals) but is sometimes harder to handle for development and support.

"Buttons mode" are not a good choice for programs and apps that are not used really all the time (like some CAD or image- and sound-handling applications).

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7 hours ago, AlbertR said:

So keyboard shortcut should go along with the specific world's habit. This makes it easy to use for customers (beginners and professionals) but is sometimes harder to handle for development and support.

I would agree that life is much easier if the keyboard shortcuts were standardised within the ecosystem. It was therefore a surprise to find that each app developer has gone their own way. I refer here to Notion and more specifically Obsidian, Roam Research and RemNote. Notion is most flexible with mouse, typed commands (following a /) and keyboard shortcuts. RemNote offers these three to but the mouse support is limited. Roam Research is the worst with many undocumented keyboard shortcuts and changes. Welcome to the world of permeant beta. What is lacking is consistency between apps. 

Using a native app the keyboard shortcuts are laid out around a scheme that has become the norm. Swap to a browser app and that scheme is different. Swap to another browser app and it is different again. P can have the meaning "print" or "search"  and H means "help", "hide" or "substitute" depending on the app. 
It gets worse with different language keyboards. Some symbols disappear from the keyboard to be replaced by more commonly used others. The forum would suggest, that Roam Research has chosen keyboard shortcuts that do not work well on a Spanish keyboard. 

We have CSS libraries that allow us to change the appearance of an app in a flash. I am waiting for the day when the app designers have a library of keyboard shortcuts layouts which are optimised around the ecosystem and keyboard language. Currently, time-consuming reallocation of keyboard shortcuts is the only option. 

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