The PC Arabic keyboard has numerous layout flaws, many of which were the result of the migration from the Arabic typewriter layout to the electronic keyboard.
Any touch-typist who uses the PC Arabic keyboard might have noticed that there are frequently used letters (such as د ج and ذ) that are located in hard to reach keys on the keyboard and typed using the pinky finger.
Arab PC users might also notice that the lam alef "لا" key that corresponds to the letter b in English is almost never used, even though it is conveniently located in the middle of the bottom row. This key was used in mechanical typewriters because mechanical typewriters couldn't automatically redraw a "lam alef" when the two letters are typed consecutively. The result would be لـا rather than لا. With the advent of electronic keyboards, which are able to redraw letters based on their location in a word, this key became redundant, yet somehow the keyboard designer failed to realize it.
Wouldn't it be better if the frequent letter د were placed in the لا location instead of its current location on the far right of the top row?
Another issue is that every Arabic sentence contains at least one period or comma, yet these two characters require a Shift combination.
My Master's thesis (direct study project) dealt with this issue and proposed to two alternative designs. The first was considered optimum but very different from the prevailing layout. The second remedies only the most problematic characters (، ذ د ج and .).
My study favored the second option because the possibility of its success is far greater. History has shown that, for reasons of path dependency, market inertia, and resistance to migration and retraining, alternative layouts that are radically different than the current standard rarely succeed.
The period and comma in this design correspond to their locations in the English QWERTY keyboard without requiring a shift, thereby eliminating the confusion for bilingual typists.
Is it still possible to optimize the Arabic keyboard layout even though millions of Arab users have gotten used to the current layout? Or has the current layout become ubiquitous that making any changes would mean too much disruption of what people have gotten used to?
I think rearranging the layout to remedy the most problematic characters is realistic. I think there are factors that make market inertia less relevant in the case of the Arabic keyboard.
Firstly, unlike products that are expensive to repurchase, computers make it easy to switch between layouts, hence the economic burden on the user to switch in not great. There can be options to switch between the standard and optimized layout based on the user's preference. There is actually no economic burden; anyone can remap a keyboard at no cost.
Secondly, the number of characters that need to be rearranged is only 9, therefore relearning them will not take very long for the average user. From my experience of switching from the Macintosh Arabic keyboard to the PC Arabic keyboard, which was different in just about the same number of characters, the process takes about a week.
Thirdly, we are in a time when users have gotten used to learning and relearning to use technology. There have been products—such as Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Word, cell phones, etc.— that have been redesigned radically to enhance usability, and although users complain at first when they are required to relearn how to use them, they usually conclude that it was for the better.