People Are Typing on Their Smartphones Almost as Fast as on Keyboards Now

A new study from the University of Cambridge reveals that the typing gap between mobile and desktop computers is narrowing, and the youth have the advantage.
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A new study from researchers at the University of Cambridge has revealed that people are now typing on their smartphones almost as fast as they can on a keyboard.

A good typist can type around 100 words per minute (WPM) on a desktop keyboard, but most of us only type around 35-65 WPM. According to the research, people using two thumbs can achieve typings speeds averaging 38 WPM on smartphones.

“[That’s] only about 25% slower than the typing speeds we observed in a similar large-scale study of physical keyboards," Anna Feit, a researcher at ETH Zürich and co-author of the study said in a statement. Feit said the number of people who can achieve speeds of 100 WPM on a keyboard is decreasing.


In a study published on Wednesday in “Proceedings of 21st International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services,” the researchers describe how they deployed the test online and gathered a sample size of more than 37,000 people. Anyone can see how they stack up by taking the test here. I put out 96 WPM on a desktop and 46 WPM on my phone, while my colleague Jordan Pearson achieved a terrifying 110 WPM on laptop keyboard and 88 WPM on his phone.

Jordan didn’t achieve that high score without errors (he typed incorrectly nearly 5 percent of the time) and he didn’t do it without help. Like many smartphone users, Jordan used both autocorrect and predictive text. According to the study, autocorrect tends to speed people up and drive down the error rate while word prediction and gesture typing negatively impact speed.

"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,” study co-author Sunjun Kim, a researcher at Aalto University, said in a statement.

Age and digit placement were the two best predictors of typing speed on a phone. According to the study, more than 74 percent of people use two thumbs and could easily achieve speeds of 50 WPM. Using a single index finger or single thumb drove those averages down to around 35 WPM. Age was the stand out metric, however. People between the ages of 10 and 19, on average, typed about 10 words faster per minute on their phones 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,” study co-author and Aalto University professor Antti Oulasvirta said.

The study is one of the largest of its kind, but the researchers pointed out there are still limitations and holes in the data. For one, participants had to be the kind of person willing to take an online typing test. “This is not representative of the general population and might bias the data towards representing a western, young, more technology-affine group of people,” the study said.

As always, there’s more research to be done. “To this end, we are releasing the code and the dataset to assist further efforts in modeling, machine learning and improvements of text entry methods,” researchers said in the study.