Study: We can text almost as fast as we type now

From the clunky old days of clamshell flip phones where the user had to press a number multiple times to choose the letter they wanted to form a word to slowly create a text message, to the introduction of the Blackberry and other phones that had an easier and faster QWERTY keypad, and finally to the 2007 advent of the iPhone and later the Android, where typing became seamless on the phones’ flat touchscreen surfaces.

Communicating via phone has gone from “not worth it” to something a child can do. (Here’s a timeline of cell phone keyboard iterations over the years).

And now, users’ typing speed on smartphones has gotten so fast, it’s almost bridged the “typing gap” between phones and physical computer keyboards, according to a new study of 37,000 people from Aalto University.

It’s all about the phone

In the largest experiment so far on mobile typing, researchers from Aalto University, University of Cambridge, and ETH Zurich analyzed the typing speed of 37,000 users on both smartphones and computer keyboards. Participants reported they spent about 6 hours a day on their phones.

The conclusion: smartphone users are gaining on keyboard users in terms of speed – even though smartphone users type with two thumbs. Currently, smartphone typists are only 25% slower than keyboarders.

“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,” aid Anna Feit, a researcher at ETH Zürich and one of the study co-authors, in a release. “While one can type much faster on a physical keyboard – up to 100 words a minute – the proportion of people who actually reach that is decreasing. Most people achieve between 35-65 wpm [on a keyboard].”

The researchers predict that the “typing gap” will be closed as people become less adept with keyboards as it becomes further de-skilled due to “smart” improvements like autocorrect and touch-sensitive keyboards, such as Microsoft’s new pressure-sensing glass keyboard with virtual keys activated by touch and swipe.

And as usual, the younger generation is leading the way when it comes to text-typing. Young people between 10 and 19 years of age are about 10 words per minute faster than people in their 40s on their phones.

“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,” said Antti Oulasvirta, professor at Aalto University.