What Is a Qwerty Keyboard on a Cell Phone?

By Alexander Poirier

A modern QWERTY keyboard
i Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of John Ward

Most cell phones are much more than devices used to make phone calls; they are phones, multi-media centers, word processors and much more all rolled into one. Because cell phones are so frequently used to create text documents, many have adopted what is known as a "QWERTY" keyboard to make typing on them more familiar.


The "QWERTY" keyboard, also known as the "Sholes" or "Universal" keyboard, was invented in the 1860's by C.L. Sholes. The first machine to feature a "QWERTY" keyboard was a typewriter. With the advent of the computer, the keyboards used to input commands adopted the "QWERTY" style and, when cell phones began to be used to create text documents, the "QWERTY" keyboard was integrated into many cell phone designs. While the use of "QWERTY" keyboards on cell phones may be a 21st century idea, the "QWERTY" keyboard itself has its origins in the 1800s.

Name/Order of Keys

The name "QWERTY" is derived from the keyboard's top row of letters which, from left to right, are in the order "QWERTYUIOP." If you take the first six letters of this row, the name "QWERTY" becomes apparent. This order of keys does not seem to be intuitive; at first thought, an alphabetically ordered keyboard would seem more prudent. Sholes designed the keyboard in this manner because it placed the most frequently used letters on opposite parts of the keyboard and allowed the typebars within the keyboard to function without jamming up. Even though modern keyboards do not need to keep this sort of layout to function properly, the "QWERTY" layout has stuck.

Implementation With Cell Phones

When placed on a cell phone, "QWERTY" keyboards must be drastically reduced in size and have many of the functions shared among keys. Often, the keyboard will only be made up of the letters of the alphabet, the space bar, enter key and basic punctuation. Numbers and advanced punctuation are accessed by pressing an "Alt" key and pressing the corresponding button whose alternate function you wish to use. Cell phones with "QWERTY" keyboards often hide them behind sliding or flipping mechanisms that only reveal the keyboard when necessary, thus reducing the size of the phone. Touch screen cell phones also have virtual "QWERTY" keyboards that allow them to type using the phone's touch screen.


"QWERTY" keyboards eliminate the hassle of pressing a button multiple times to create the symbol you want. They allow cell phone users to composed text documents such as text messages and emails that are a part of many cell phone users' daily life just as they would on a computer. Many phones even have some sort of word processing software that allows their users to type full documents on their cell phone that can later be viewed and edited on their computer. With technology and communication constantly becoming increasingly mobile, cell phones with a "QWERTY" keyboard, virtual or otherwise, have become a necessity.