- Study of 37,000 people from around the world reveals younger people aged 10 to 19 can type 10 words per minute faster on their phones than older individuals.
- The fastest smartphone keyboard typing speed among study participants? An incredible 85 words per minute!
ESPOO, Finland — Physical keyboards may soon go the way of the VHS and Walkman. A study by researchers at Aalto University in Finland and ETH Zürich in Switzerland finds that the typing speed gap between mobile device touchscreens and physical keyboards is narrowing, especially among young people.
Researchers say that youth aged 10 to 19 years old can type 10 words per minute faster on their phones than their parents’ generation.
The study is the largest to date on mobile typing speed trends. The researchers set out to examine how people generally type on touchscreens as well as the factors that commonly impact typing speed. The researchers analyzed the typing speeds of over 37,000 volunteers. Each person took an online typing test that recorded the participants’ keystrokes in order to measure typing speed, number of errors, and other factors related to typical mobile device behavior.
“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 co-author Anna Feit, a researcher at ETH Zürich, in a media release. “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.”
While the majority of the volunteer group consisted of American women in their early 20s, the dataset also included people from over 160 countries across a variety of age groups. On average, participants reported spending about six hours each day on their phone.
“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,” Feit comments.
The study’s authors predict that as time goes on people will become less skilled on physical keyboards, due in part to technology such as auto-correct continuing to improve, causing the gap to completely close at some point. The fastest typing speed the researchers recorded from a touchscreen user was a remarkable 85 words per minute!
One of the study’s most interesting findings was that the best indicator of typing performance is whether or not an individual uses one finger or two thumbs to type. The majority of volunteers used two thumbs (74%) which makes sense, since using two appendages almost always increases typing speed. Enabling spelling auto-correct also offers a big benefit, however, enabling manual word suggestions or predictions did not increase speed.
“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,” comments Sunjun Kim, a researcher at Aalto University.
Only 14% of the volunteers didn’t use any type of intelligent typing support, such as autocorrect.
Furthermore, the study illustrated a clear generational gap among type speeds. Adolescents (aged 10-19) were typing about 10 words per minute 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. “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.”
If you are looking to type faster on your phone, the research team recommend using two thumbs and enabling autocorrect.
The study was presented at the Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services in 2019.