In some good news for those who want smartphones to become their typewriters, the typing speeds on mobile handsets are now catching up with physical keyboards thanks to millennials.
A study of over 37,000 users found that the “typing gap”, the difference in typing speeds between mobile devices and physical keyboards is decreasing, and 10-19-year olds can type about 10 words-per-minute faster than their parents’ generation.
Researchers from Aalto University (Finland), University of Cambridge and ETH Zurich analysed the typing speed of tens of thousands of users on both phones and computers.
If you want to type faster on mobile, the researchers recommend using two thumbs and enabling auto-correction of words.
“We were amazed to see that users typing with two thumbs achieved 38 words per minute (WPM) on average, which is only about 25 percent 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.
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 authors 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 may be closed at some point.
The fastest speed the researchers saw on a touchscreen was a user who managed the remarkable speed of 85 words per minute.
To reach this conclusion, the research team collected a dataset from over 37 000 volunteers in an online typing test, with the help of the typing speed test service TypingMaster.com.
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 behaviour on mobile devices.
While the majority of volunteers were women in their early twenties, the dataset includes people from all ages and from over 160 countries.
On average, the participants reported spending about 6 hours per day on their mobile device.
“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,” explained Feit.
The best predictor of performance is whether you use one finger or two thumbs to type.
Over 74 percent of people type with two thumbs, and the speed increase it offers is very large.
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.
“We found 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,” said Sunjun Kim, a researcher at Aalto University.
“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,” added Antti Oulasvirta, professor at Aalto University.