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This question is related to this one.

I realise not all keyboards have the NumPad, but why do those who do have a NumPad have two sets of keys for numbers ( the numbers above the letters and below the F keys and then the NumPad numbers.)

My logic seems to think a second set would be redundant, that would be better to have either the NumPad or the number above the letters, but it seems all keyboards have numbers above the letters and then a certain amount have the NumPads numbers as well.

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    Worth knowing that ten-key used to be taught, much like touch-typing courses, for accountancy, secretarial, and other professions. Like QWERTY typists, a trained ten-key operator relies on consistent key layout. This WikiHow shows the basics: wikihow.com/Ten-Key – Jim Nelson Aug 10 at 17:08
  • I'll note that no all keyboards with a 10-key pad also have the numeric keys along top. A few compact keyboards (I'm thinking ca 1980) skipped the top row. – Hot Licks Aug 10 at 21:55
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    The top row isn't just numbers. There's all those symbols above them as well: !@#$%^&*(). How else are we supposed to write cartoon swears? – Darrel Hoffman Aug 11 at 15:40
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    @DarrelHoffman They want you to clean up your language. – Hot Licks Aug 11 at 17:53
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    I can only assume you haven't spent a lot of time going back and forth between typing text that a has numbers and doing entirely numeric data entry. Don't take away either of my number entry mechanisms, I need both!! When you're touch typing, moving your hand to the keypad slows you down A LOT. When you are entering a large quantity of numbers into a spreadsheet, having to use the number row is SUPER slow. – Todd Wilcox Aug 12 at 5:42
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The two sets of numbers serve different purposes, and

I realise not all keyboards have the NumPad

is an important factor.

The main part of the keyboard is based on typewriters, and has to provide everything required for text entry, on its own. This means that it has to include digits (including 0 and 1, which many typewriters didn’t). Typists will tend to only use this part of the keyboard.

The numeric keypad is based on calculators, and is used for numeric data entry; imagine the sort of entry historically performed on printing calculators (as can be seen in Raffzahn’s answer to your previous question), e.g. for accounting purposes. This explains the layout, with larger + and Enter keys (and specifically Enter rather than Return), and sometimes even a 00 key.

Many computer users don’t need the numeric keypad, which is why it is optional in practice; but everyone needs the digit keys in the main section, at least some of the time. On the other hand, users who need the numeric keypad do benefit from its specific layout, and can’t use the digit keys in the main section to the same effect.

Historically, early keyboards were re-purposed typewriters, with no numeric keypad. As the applications of computers expanded, along with the development of interactive uses and the associated input and output devices, keys were added to keyboards, leading to some famous examples which have been discussed here previously. Some early keyboards had pads to the right with function keys; see for example the Sanders 720 in 1969. One of the earliest keyboards with duplicated number keys, with one set in a separate keypad on the right, was used in the Datapoint 3300 terminal, released in 1969. The numeric keypad there was called an “adding machine format keyboard”, and the manual says

For those accustomed to using adding machines, or when large amounts of numerical data is to be entered into the computer, the adding machine format keys are especially useful.

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  • Ok, so generally keyboard layouts put typewriting concerns above calculators concerns? Who or what exactly decided this? – Neil Meyer Aug 10 at 9:23
  • True. The core point is that both keyboards are meant for different use cases. The main keyboard is about generic typing/text, while the numeric is an optimized version for numeric entry (which BTW includes as well switching <kbd>.</kbd> with <kbd>,</kbd>, depending on region/language). – Raffzahn Aug 10 at 9:25
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    @NeilMeyer "Who or what exactly decided this? " Time, sales and typing schools. Today's QWERTY ordering goes back to the 1870 when Sholes made his typewriter. At the time it was only one of many layouts. It became a boost due Remington licencing it and mass producing that typewriter. But it took about 50 years (1920s) for QWERTY and related European layouts (QWERTZ, AZERTY) to become the default. – Raffzahn Aug 10 at 9:34
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    re Who or what exactly decided this? the adoption of existing devices for use with computers -- teletypes, flexowriters, IBM selectrics. – another-dave Aug 10 at 12:14
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    @IsmaelMiguel guess what keyboard layout I use ;-). I learnt to touch-type on AZERTY, holding Shift down as appropriate with my left pinky is automatic. However, even if all AZERTY users relied on the numeric keypad, the statement that “many computer users don’t need the numeric keypad” would remain true — AZERTY is used by a minority of keyboard users around the world. – Stephen Kitt Aug 11 at 8:51
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I realise not all keyboards have the NumPad, but why do those who do have a NumPad have two sets of keys for numbers?

Well, it wouldn't be a numeric keypad if it didn't have numbers.

The answer is surely "because it is exceedingly useful".

I'm a programmer; I don't use the numeric keypad for numerics in programming, when I'm typing "all characters". I'm expecting standard typewriter layout when I'm doing that.

But I do use the keypad when working primarily with numbers -- e.g., in calculator programs, personal-finance programs, and (oddly) when entering numeric codes from two-factor-authentication text messages.

The usefulness appears to stem from the fact that I can type all digits with one hand, freeing the other up for holding whatever I'm reading from (bank statement, phone, whatever).

So why not just have the numeric keypad? The answer is, it costs nothing to retain the top-row digits even though you've added more keys. You can't usefully use those shifted key positions for anything else: you'd end up with a non-standard layout that no-one would want.

I see no downside to having two sets of digits. I wouldn't buy a keyboard that didn't have a numeric keypad.

(Laptops are an exception due to size).

My experience with numeric keypads separate from the main typing array goes back to the 1977 DEC VT52, though I admit that there I mostly used it in "alternate keypad mode", for text editor commands.

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    @TonyM I'd argue that if you're typing long strings of primarily numbers, a one-handed numpad layout is more comfortable than the top number row which requires both hands and shifting the hand position (unless you have exceedingly long thumbs). It also places keys which are often used with numbers, such as + or Enter, in better positions. So there's certainly merit to the layout that goes beyond familiarity (which shouldn't be discounted either). – Maciej Stachowski Aug 10 at 14:04
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    @TonyM It depends on the user. Whenever I want to enter a bunch of numbers into a spreadsheet, I always switch to the numeric keypad. In fact, I always leave NumLock on and work column-wise for exactly that reason... so I minimize the chance of having to use keys outside the numeric keypad. – ssokolow Aug 10 at 14:51
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    Well, a number pad may not be "exceedingly useful", but they are very handy for calculations. I can't imagine having to hit shift every time I wanted to add or multiply - and having all the operators together is a plus too. I also use the number pad when typing my pin in to login. But if you never use the number pad, why not just get a keyboard without a number pad, I have one of those as well, and it is handy if you are space constrained. – Glen Yates Aug 10 at 15:46
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    @TonyM The number pad is "exceedingly useful" for number entry. It's more compact and allows for rapid single-handed entry of large amounts of numerical data with minimal travel distance. Just because you've never seen anyone use it doesn't mean it isn't so; you surely have not seen a statistically significant percentage of the population, and nothing says those people were using their keyboards in the most efficient manner. People do what they're used to, and if they never learned to use the number pad they would be very unlikely to switch to it without some prompting, no matter how useful. – Herohtar Aug 10 at 18:37
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    @TonyM I use the numberpad all the time when I have to enter in a bunch of numbers into a spreadsheet as did others when I was in university back in 2000s. I imagine accountants use it a lot. – DKNguyen Aug 10 at 18:55
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... that it would be better to have either the NumPad or the numbers above the letters...

At least some of us like using the NumPad for numerical entry, so we prefer keyboards that have one. You are asking why keyboards marketed at us still have the upper numerical row. I'd say it's because you can't easily remove those keys - even if the numbers aren't needed, where do you put the symbols?

One could scatter them around accessed by an extra "shift" key (like Fn on laptops) but then I'd have different keyboard layouts in different rooms, driving me nuts every time I needed a '%' or ')'.

People who don't use the NumPad can buy a keyboard without one. People who do can buy a keyboard with one, and (as it still also has that upper row) it's still usable by everyone.

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  • Typing keys on the top row of Commodore's PET without shift would yield !"#$%&'(); typing numerals required using the numeric keypad. – supercat Aug 12 at 16:40
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    @supercat: Exactly: and where's the Commodore PET now? ;) – Lou Knee Aug 12 at 16:45
  • Serious response: Exactly - the keyboard manufacturer can't save money by omitting the physical keys, so they may as well label them up so that the product is as widely usable as possible (in today's marketplace). – Lou Knee Aug 12 at 16:58
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There is a fairly obvious answer: to a lot of people (non-accountants, basically) it is NOT a NumPad, it is a cursor control pad. If you look closely, you will see that the keys are labeled with arrows, PgUp, PgDn, and so on. This is not an accident.

I've been using the now-standard 101/102 key keyboards since they were introduced, but I don't think I have EVER intentionally used that "NumPad" to enter numbers. In fact, within X I've disabled NumLock (and CapsLock).

Perhaps a better question would be why keyboards duplicate the cursor movement keys, while placing them awkwardly so they're difficult to use correctly.

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  • You're talking about one specific computer, don't you? – Raffzahn Aug 11 at 11:54
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    @Raffzahn: No, I'm talking about the many different computers that use the now-standard 101/102 key format - which I would guess to be at least 80-90% of all keyboards today. (Excluding laptops - but there's a reason I mostly use my laptop in a dock, or with a standard keyboard in a USB port.) IIRC (it has been a long time) a number of non-PC keyboards used the same cursor key pad, for instance the ones used with IBM 3270? mainframes. – jamesqf Aug 11 at 15:12
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    I have had the exact opposite experience, I am used to computers where the numeric keypad is always a NUMERIC keypad, and find it exceedingly aggravating when I am using one particular OS that doesn't follow this paradigm. I think I am typing numbers in, only to find that I have been sending various up, down, home, left, right, … combinations. I mean if I wanted to use arrow keys, I would use the clearly marked arrow keys that are just to the left of the keypad. – Glen Yates Aug 11 at 15:40
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    @jamesqf Erm, so far it seams as if you're just talking about the IBM-PC and it's follow up, as this was the one that introduced the dual usage of the numeric keypad as cursor keys as you describe it. The 101/102 key format is the IBM-PC keyboard. There were many others before (and after). – Raffzahn Aug 11 at 17:07
  • @Raffzahn: But my understanding is that the question is why those other keyboard designs have mostly disappeared. And as I said, I remember the prior-to-PC IBM mainframe keyboards as having pretty much the same cursor keypad layout. Don't recall whether they could be shifted to numeric entry, since I never had occasion to do that. – jamesqf Aug 12 at 3:41
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While not a better answer per se, the others have excluded what I consider a key(get it?) point. The number pad also doubled as a cursor movement input prior to arrow keys being commonplace(on IBM-PC). I've had trouble finding a good reference, but this link at least mentions it:

In the early days, keyboards didn’t have dedicated arrow keys so the number pad keys doubled in function. You could use it to enter numbers, and you could use the arrow keys to move your cursor. The number pad seemed like a good place to put the keys too since it was easy to use and it didn’t interfere with the letter keys.

And

Keyboards have changed quite a bit but you’ll be surprised to know that a certain aspect of it dates back to when a computer was used exclusively through the terminal and GUI, as a concept, didn’t exist. This is the number pad with its home, end, and arrow key buttons. To be precise, it’s the arrow keys on a number pad. The other keys, i.e., Home, End, Pgup, and Pgdn are included to make it more functional.

As pointed out by @Raffzhan and @EuroMicelli this is relevant because most modern keyboards derived from the IBM-PC, but many alternative keyboards existed with various configurations and arrow keys outside the number pad/as their own section of the keyboard. The Wikipedia article on Arrow Keys actually has a decent overview on some other combinations as outlined by EuroMicelli, but nothing as early, and relevant to this conversation, as @Raffzahn's link to the DataPoint 3300

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    You're aware that this is only to specific to the IBM-PC? Other computers before the IBM-PC had dedicated cursor keys. And terminals had them already before them, as early as back in the 1960s, like the Datapoint 3300. – Raffzahn Aug 10 at 23:54
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    I wasn't, it's just what I was familiar with and ignorantly assumed it was that way across the industry. Thanks for the extra details, I'll incorporate them. – TCooper Aug 11 at 0:07
  • Welcome to Retrocomputing! This is very relevant, but keep in mind it’s true in reference to the original IBM PC, indeed critical because the vast majority of modern keyboard layouts derive directly from it. However many other microcomputers before and after often had no numeric keypads at all, and had either only dedicated cursor keys, cursor keys overlaid on keys other than numeric keypad, or no cursor keys at all. E.g. WordStar, a very popular ‘80s word processor, ran on many machines and implemented it’s own custom “cursor” key combinations in case your computer didn’t have cursor keys) – Euro Micelli Aug 11 at 0:11
  • I think it would be more correct to say that the cursor keypad could double as numeric keys, at least on PC keyboards and their predecessors. Cursor movement was the primary purpose. – jamesqf Aug 11 at 15:15
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    @jamesqf This may only be correct for one specific type of computer, as other computers with a similar looking layout, have as their primary purpose the keypad being for numeric entry as evidenced by there being only numbers printed on them (no arrows, etc) and the OS defaulting to these keys being number keys. – Glen Yates Aug 11 at 16:19
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A touch typist will prefer the typewriter number keys for all but long strings of digits.

A touch typist can type the number keys that are above the letters without looking, pretty quickly, and without moving the hands from the home position. Although using the numeric keypad for digits is faster, it takes so long to move the right hand from the home row to the numeric keypad, and then back again once the digits are typed, that it takes a very long string of digits to make the cost of using the keypad worth it.

Having to look to direct the hand is another cost of using the numeric keypad. A touch typist can keep the eyes on the screen, on the work, where mistakes can be spotted and corrected quickly.

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  • I'm curious about the downvote. Have I explained myself poorly, or am I just wrong? – Wayne Conrad Aug 13 at 14:02
  • Presumably there are some data entry types who disagree about the number keys being faster. But as I said, they aren't the only computer users, and for many of us those keys are for cursor movement. – jamesqf Aug 14 at 0:25

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