Turns Out Typing on a Keyboard Isn't That Much Faster Than Texting These Days

Texting with two thumbs is faster than one.
Photo: Getty Images

Think you need an actual keyboard to type fast? Think again. Researchers have found that people can now type almost as fast on a smartphone as they can on a traditional keyboard, The Guardian reports.

A team from Aalto University, University of Cambridge, and ETH Zürich conducted a study of mobile typing speeds with the help of more than 37,000 volunteers from more than 160 countries. They found that, on average, people type about 70 percent as fast on their phones as they do on a full-sized keyboard, for an average of about 36 words per minute (wpm). For reference, a 2018 study by several of the same researchers found that the average speed on a physical keyboard clocked in at about 52 wpm. One participant, however, managed to type at a blistering speed of 85 wpm on their smartphone.

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But it’s not just that smartphone typing is catching up—keyboard users also seem to have gotten slower. Previous research found that the average wpm on a physical keyboard has gone down in recent decades.

“While one can type much faster on a physical keyboard, up to 100 wpm, the proportion of people who actually reach that is decreasing,” said Anna Felt, an ETH Zürich researcher and one of the study’s coauthors, in a statement. “Most people achieve between 35-65 wpm.If physical keyboard speeds continue to decline and touchscreen speeds rise even higher, the researchers believe the gap between the two may close completely.

The study found some other interesting tidbits. For instance, typing with both thumbs is faster than typing one-handed or with a single finger. Two-thumbed typists also had a slightly higher average at 38 wpm, and made up 74 percent of those surveyed. And, unsurprisingly, younger folks type faster on their phones, with those between the ages of 10-19 logging about 10 more words per minute than people in their 40s. More unexpected was that they weren’t the heaviest phone users: that dubious honor went to the 20-39 year old age group. Overall, the study’s participants reported that they spent about six hour per day on their phones.

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Also, apparently autocorrect offers a clear boost to typing speeds, while word prediction actually slows you down.

In the paper, the researchers admit the limitations of their study. While tens of thousands of people may have participated, volunteers are an inherently self-selecting group, and the study—duh—attracted people who were younger and already interested in typing. Still, the data provides perhaps our best glimpse yet of the future of typing.

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“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, an Aalto University professor, in the study’s press release. “This is a type of motor skill that people learn on their own with no formal training, which is very unlike typing on physical keyboards.”

If you’re curious to see how your thumbs measure up and have a free 10 minutes, you can take the test here. Yours truly managed a not-too-shabby average rate of 49 wpm (though my fastest sentence was 79 wpm) with an error rate of 1.02 percent. Now to go ice my thumbs.

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About the author

Victoria Song

Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.