Thumbs at the ready: Smartphone typing speed catching up with keyboards

Thumbs at the ready: Smartphone typing speed catching up with keyboards

The speed of typing on a smartphone is catching up with physical keyboards, according to a large study of users on touchscreen handsets.

Research involving more than 37,000 people found that the average speed using both thumbs is 38 words per minute, with auto-correct features helping make the majority faster.

One hundred words per minute is considered a fast typing speed on a physical keyboard, but scientists say most people achieve between 35 to 65 words per minute, suggesting that the so-called “typing gap” is narrowing.

“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 Anna Feit, a researcher at ETH Zurich, and one of the co-authors.

(Martin Keene/PA)
(Martin Keene/PA)

While auto-correct of words was found to offer a clear benefit, word prediction and manually choosing word suggestions appears to hamper smartphone typing speeds.

The findings also revealed a generational difference, with 10 to 19-year-olds typing 10 words more per minute than their parents’ generation in the 40 to 49-year-old bracket.

Almost three quarters (74%) of people use their two thumbs when typing on a smartphone, and the quickest to take part in the study managed to notch up 85 words per minute.

And the speed of typing on smartphones only looks set to get even faster, with Apple recently adding swipe typing on its iOS operating system, allowing users to glide their thumb to each letter without lifting.

ETH Zurich worked on the research with Aalto University and the University of Cambridge, and will present their findings at the MobileHCI 2019 conference in Taipei, Taiwan.

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