The average phone typing speed is catching up with that of the classic keyboard.

You guess this article was typed on a keyboard, right? Whatever, you’re about to read it. And it doesn’t matter whether it was a laptop, a desktop, or even a palmtop, it was published, duh! Back in the good o’l days, typing was a lucrative career when the dot-com era was at its infancy. Remember your Mavis Beacon lessons? (Only 90s kids can relate). However, being fast on the keyboard was the order of the day, fast forward decades later, and that’s not the catch. Nowadays, we spend more time on our smartphones than computers. According to research, the average phone typing speed is catching up with the keyboard.



Whence Cometh Texting Speed?

In a 2019 study that appeared in the proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, researchers had to test the “phone typing speed” hypothesis. The study, which was conducted by researchers from Aalto University, University of Cambridge, and ETH Zürich, analyzed typing speeds of 37,000 users on both phones and computers. The team collected the dataset in an online typing test with assistance from Typing Master

The researchers recorded several typing features of the participants such as keystrokes they made while transcribing a set of given sentences, errors they made, and hosts of other factors to assess their typing speed and behavior on mobile devices. On average, the participants reported spending an average of six hours per day on their smartphones, and it came as no surprise that they had sharp skills that corresponded with fast fingers. But their main find was that the phone typing speed was catching up with physical keyboard.

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“We were amazed to see that users typing with two thumbs achieved 38 words per minute on average, which is only about 25 percent slower than the typing speeds we observed in a similar large-scale study of physical keyboards,” says Anna Feit, a researcher at ETH Zürich, and one of the co-authors. “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.”



Smartphones Vs Keyboards

The dataset was quite standard and made available to the public. Although a majority of participants were within their early twenties, and roughly half the size were American, yet it included people from all ages from over 160 countries.

As Feit explains, “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.”

However, the best predictor of performance was based on which fingers you used in typing. The research saw more than 74 percent of participants typing with two thumbs — an indicator that significantly increased their speeds. The research also found that features like auto-correct offered a significant advantage, whereas word prediction, or choosing words manually, did not.

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“The given understanding is that techniques like word completion help people,” says Sunjun Kim, a researcher at 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.”

According to researchers, the difference between typing on a keyboard and a smartphone is known as “the typing gap.” The researchers predicted that as people get skilled with smartphones techniques, the gap may be closed at some point. The researchers recorded a record touchscreen speed of 85 wpm by one of the participants.



The Future Smartphones: Tapping

The research also found a strong generational effect among young participants between 10 and 19 years who were able to type roughly 10 wpm faster than people in their 40s. 

“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,” says Antti Oulasvirta, a professor at Aalto University, and … of the study. “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.”

(Fun fact: Did you know that most of Factionary articles are entirely written on smartphones?)

Source: ETH Zürich


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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Thu, Jan 27, 2022.

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