The fastest phone typers can match keyboard users

The fastest phone typers can tap out 85 words-per-minute on touchscreens using two thumbs and autocorrect — as fast as the average keyboard user

  • Researchers studied more than 37,000 keyboard typers or touchscreen texters
  • Teens text at around 10 words-per-minute faster than their parents’ generation
  • People are growing increasingly less skilled with the use of physical keyboards
  • Autocorrect is more efficient than word prediction or selection from a list

The fastest texters have caught up with typists who use physical keyboards as experts find that touchscreen users can reach speeds of 85 words-per-minute.

Researchers used an internet-based typing test to study how fast thousands of volunteers could transcribe sentences on both screens and keyboards.

The team report that the fastest texters tended to be those who used both thumbs to type and also had some form of auto-correct turned on to assist them.

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The fastest texters have caught up with typists who use physical keyboards as experts find that touchscreen users can reach speeds of 85 words-per-minute


An international team of researchers studied how people type using their touchscreens and real keyboards. 

They found that the gap between typing in the two ways is decreasing.

The fastest texters tended to be those who used two thumbs and had auto-correction turned on.

The team found that over 74 per cent of people use two thumbs to type, while only 14 per cent text without any form of automatic assistance.

Computer scientist Anna Feit of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and colleagues used’s typing speed test service to collect data on around 37,000 volunteers who used either mobile devices or a physical keyboard.

The participants consented to let the researchers record the keystrokes they made while transcribing given sentences, allowing the team to assess each persons typing speed, level of mistakes and other characteristics.

Although the majority of the volunteers were reported to be women in their early twenties and predominantly US-based, the researchers managed to collect data on typists from more than 160 countries and of all ages.

‘We were amazed to see that users typing with two thumbs achieved 38 words per minute on average, which is only about 25% slower than the typing speeds we observed in a similar large-scale study of physical keyboards,’ said Dr Feit.

‘While one can type much faster on a physical keyboard — up to 100 wpm — the proportion of people who actually reach that is decreasing.’

‘Most people achieve between 35-65 WPM.’

The researchers noted that the so-called ‘typing gap’ — the difference in speed achieved between using a keyboard or a touchscreen interface — is closing.

This is because people are increasingly becoming less skilled on physical keyboards, while methods for intelligent typing assistance — like auto-correction — continue to get more efficient.

The researchers believe that the gap may close, or even reverse, in the future.

The fastest display of texting recorded in the study was a user who could tap out an exceptional 85 words per minute.

On average, the participants in the study reported spending an average of six hours each day on their mobile devices. 

‘Such large amount of experience transfers to the development of typing skill and explains why young people, who spend more time with social media, communicating with each other, are picking up higher speeds,’ said Dr Feit.

The team also found that enabling the automatic correction of misspelt words improved on-screen typing speed, while devices that offered word prediction or selections to manually choose from did not have the same effect.

‘The given understanding is that techniques like word completion help people,’ said paper author and computer scientist Sunjun Kim of Finland’s Aalto University.

‘But what we found out is that the time spent thinking about the word suggestions often outweighs the time it would take you to type the letters, making you slower overall.’

Most of the study participants were found to use some form of intelligent typing support — with only 14 per cent of users typing without any form of auto-correction, word suggestion or gesture-based typing.

Researchers used an internet-based typing test to study how fast thousands of volunteers could transcribe sentences on both screens and keyboards

The study revealed a strong generational effect in typing on touchscreens — with those aged between 10 and 19 typically being able to type at around 10 words per minute faster than those in their forties.

‘We are seeing a young generation that has always used touchscreen devices, and the difference to older generations that may have used devices longer, but different types, is staggering,’ said paper author Antti Oulasvirta of Aalto University.  

‘This is a type of motor skill that people learn on their own with no formal training, which is very unlike typing on physical keyboards.’ 

‘It is an intriguing question what could be achieved with a careful training program for touchscreens.’

However, the researchers found that formal training in ten-finger touch typing on physical keyboards appeared to confer no speed benefit.

The full findings of the study will be presented at the 21st International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, which is being held in Taipei, Taiwan, from October 1–4, 2019.

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