Typing speed on mobile is catching up to keyboards

If you want to try the typing-speed test yourself, you can have a go here. (Credit: Getty Images)

Typing speed on mobile devices is catching up to that of physical keyboards, a study of more than 37,000 users shows.

The research also finds that 10-19-year-olds can type about 10 words per minute faster than can people in their 40s.

The participants reported spending an average of six hours per day on their mobile devices, so it’s no wonder they are skilled and have correspondingly fast fingers.

“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,” says study coauthor Anna Feit, a researcher at ETH Zürich.

Researchers from Aalto University, University of Cambridge, and ETH Zürich analyzed the typing speed of 37,000 users on both phones and computers. Their main finding is that typing speeds on smartphones are now catching up with physical keyboards.

The best predictor of performance is whether you use one finger or two thumbs to type. Over 74% of people type with two thumbs, and the speed increase it offers is very significant. The study also found that enabling the auto-correct of words offers a clear benefit, whereas word prediction, or manually choosing word suggestions, does not.

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

The authors call the difference between typing on a keyboard and a smartphone the “typing gap” and predict that as people get less skilled with physical keyboards, and smart methods for keyboards improve further (such as auto-correction and touch models), the gap will even close at some point.

The dataset is unique in its size and includes people of all ages and from over 160 countries. The research team collected the dataset in an online typing test. With the consent of the participants, they recorded the keystrokes they made while transcribing a set of given sentences to assess their typing speed, errors, and other factors related to their typing behavior on mobile devices.

The fastest speed the researchers saw on a touchscreen was a user who managed the remarkable rate of 85 words per minute. If you want to try the typing-speed test yourself, you can have a go at http://typingtest.aalto.fi/.

The findings appear in the proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services.

Source: Rebecca Lehmann for ETH Zurich