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Tech Design for Left-Handed People | Facebook Right-Handed Phone

  • Snippets from Steven Levy’s new book, “Facebook: The Inside Story,” suggest that the tech company had once been working on a phone that would only work well for right-handed people.
  • Facebook internally denied ever producing such a phone, though former employees recall that as one of the first times the company lied to its own workers.
  • It’s just another example in a long history of tech products leaving left-handed people behind.

In 2010, only a few years after the introduction of the iPhone, Facebook designed a smartphone that could only be used by people who are right-handed, a move that would’ve alienated a sizable chunk of the human population.

According to Steven Levy’s new book, “Facebook: The Inside Story,” Swiss designer Yves Béhar created the prototype device, codenamed GFK in reference to Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah. Though the company denies any such phone existed, one of Facebook’s earliest employees Ezra Callahan told Levy that “it was the first time I recall Facebook lying internally.”

Because Béhar’s previous work featured bold colors and was made with sustainability in mind, the Facebook phone would’ve likely featured similar characteristics.

A student works with his OLPC XO laptop at the Nuestra Senora del Rosario Catholic School in San Marcos, 5 km south from San Salvador, El Salvador, on May 21, 2010 as students work with OLPC XO laptops designed specially to close technological gap in developing countries.
JOSE CABEZASGetty Images

Facebook’s prototype featured “an unusual groove in the curved surface, where one could scroll using a thumb,” according to Levy’s book, or unlock the device. It’s a bit hard to visualize, but think of a mini trackpad on the side of the phone.

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An anonymous Facebook employee told Levy that the touch sensor only worked well for right-handed people, but the company went full steam ahead anyway. “We decided we didn’t care about left-handed people,” that employee told Levy.

It sounds like Facebook’s wasn’t intentionally discriminating against lefties, but the GFK was just another example of tech’s long line of right-handed bias. For example, 2017’s Samsung Galaxy S8’s fingerprint scanner is placed on the right side of the camera lens, the Note 8’s stylus is housed on the right, and the Apple Watch does not center its digital crown, which can also be awkward for left-handed people.

Luckily, there are some exceptions, most notably Samsung’s Note 10 moved the power button to the left side last year, making it great for lefties (though the design decision is likely a coincidence).

While hardware continually falls short of any sort of ambidextrous ideal, Google’s tried to alleviate some of the left-handed suffering through software.

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In developer settings, users can switch on a left-handed layout to make it more comfortable. The changes are subtle, but can make a vast difference in the user experience. For instance, buttons will be moved slightly so that it’s easier for lefties to tap the buttons with their left thumbs.

Here’s how to enable left-handed mode on Android devices:

  • Go to Settings > About Phone.
  • Scroll down until you see Build Number. Tap it quickly seven times. This enables developer options.
  • Now, hit the back button to go to the main settings.
  • At the bottom, right above About Phone, you’ll now see Developer Options where it wasn’t before. Tap it.
  • Scroll down and tap the box to enable Force RTL layout direction..
  • Source: The Verge

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