This article appears in Winter Boomers magazine.
Tuck in those index fingers and start typing with your thumbs. A new study confirms that’s the fastest way to type on a smartphone.
There are no classes for learning how to type faster on a phone, like there are for keyboarding, but this new study, the largest experiment to date on touchscreen typing and the factors that affect speed, offers a few handy hacks. The trick of typing faster is using both thumbs and turning on autocorrect.
The highlight of the study, which was presented at a human-computer interaction conference in Taiwan in October, is that typing speeds on smartphones are now catching up with those on physical keyboards.
“The typing speeds are surprisingly high on mobile, especially compared to the relatively slow speed people can type with on physical keyboards these days,” said Anna Feit, a researcher at ETH Zurich university and one of the study co-authors.
A typical QWERTY keyboard allows people to type at a much faster speed, up to 100 words per minute, but most typers don’t reach beyond 60 words per minute, Feit said.
“The proportion of people who actually reach 100 words per minute is actually decreasing. Most people achieve between 35 and 65 words per minute,” she said.
Researchers called the difference in typing speed on a keyboard and a touchscreen “the typing gap.” They predict that gap will narrow or close as people get less skilled with physical keyboards, and smart methods for keyboards improve.
Users typing with two thumbs achieved 38 words per minute on average, which is only about 25% slower than the typing speeds observed in a similar large-scale study of physical keyboards, Feit said. The fastest speed on a touchscreen was a user who managed the remarkable speed of 85 words per minute.
To conduct this unique study, researchers recruited more than 37,000 volunteers from over 160 countries to participate in an online typing test. Participants were asked to memorize a series of sentences then transcribe them on both a keyboard and a touchscreen. Typing speed, errors and other factors were assessed. A majority of volunteers were women in their early 20s and about half of the participants came from the United States.
To try the typing-speed test, go to typingtest.aalto.fi.
2 faster than 1
The best predictor of performance is whether you use one finger or two thumbs to type. Over 74% of people type with two thumbs, which greatly increased speed.
While not examined in the study, changing the orientation of the keyboard to landscape or horizontal mode offers a wider surface area in which to work.
Yes to autocorrect
The study also found that enabling the auto-correct feature offers a clear benefit over word prediction, or manually choosing word suggestions.
“There is a large time cost associated to correcting typing mistakes. You have to shift your mental focus from typing to checking what you have typed to detect the mistake and then correct it, which is relatively slow and cumbersome on mobile devices,” Feit said. “Autocorrect does that automatically, and after a while one can predict what kind of words it can correct well. For these one can move the fingers faster and less precise as autocorrect will take care of any missed keys.”