Is Touchscreen Typing as Fast as Using a Manual Keyboard?

Updated on January 9, 2020
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

The internet and smartphone technology are key to the way I connect with others. I can't imagine life without them.

Touch-typing means you can look at the screen and not your fingers as you type.
Touch-typing means you can look at the screen and not your fingers as you type. | Source

Are Young People Better at Touch-Typing Than Older Folk?

New research shows that young people are beating their elders when it comes to typing speeds. A survey of 37,000 people across more than 100 countries was carried out in 2019.

Volunteers completed a speed-typing test on a smartphone or computer. The majority of user speeds were in the range 35-65 words per minute (WPM). The study found that the average typing speed on smartphones was 38 WPM compared to 52 on a standard PC keyboard.

However, there was a noticeable difference in performance between age-groups. On average, young people between 10 and 19 years achieved ten words per minute more than their elders. The researchers concluded that as youngsters spend up to six hours a day using touchscreens, they are clocking up many more hours’ practice than older people. The best touchscreen users reached 85 WPM.

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.

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.

It is an intriguing question what could be achieved with a careful training program for touchscreens.

— Research author Antti Oulasvirta of Aalto University quoted in The Daily Mail newspaper 10/02/19.

Results of a Human-Computer Study With 37,000 Volunteers

"What can we learn about typing on mobile devices from analyzing data of over 37,000 people?

  • With only 1 or 2 fingers, people type about 70% as fast on mobile devices as on full desktop keyboards. Still, the average performance is only around 36 WPM.
  • Over 74% of people used both thumbs for typing which is significantly faster than using one thumb or index finger.
  • Younger people between 10-19 typed fastest although they spent less time on their mobile compared to those aged 20-39.
  • People using auto-correction typed faster. In contrast, people who manually chose words suggested by the keyboard typed slower."

Proceedings of 21st International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services.

What Does WPM or Words Per Minute Mean?

Adverts for admin or call center roles often require applicants to be able to demonstrate minimum typing speeds. These differ according to the requirements of each job; 40 WPM (words per minute) may be adequate for a general administrator, 80 WPM would be more likely for a personal secretary’s role.

Employers use an automated test to measure typing speeds. An applicant is asked to either copy-type or audio-type a letter or prose passage. The software times the exercise, counts the keystrokes and deducts seconds for spelling mistakes. The resulting score reveals the accuracy and number of words per minute achieved by the touch typist.

An average ability touch-typist achieves around 40 WPM. Someone who uses a computer keyboard regularly using one or two fingers to “hunt and peck” may type at around 30WPM.

Speed Typing, Smartphones, Computers, and Manual Typewriters

Speed typing is a faster version of touch typing. Some jobs require extremely fast typing speeds. For example, Court proceedings are recorded by a stenographer typist at speeds of around 120 WPM. However, most jobs do not require this level of skill and dexterity.

Many people who work at increasing their typing speeds do so for either personal satisfaction or for competitive purposes. I learned to touch type using this app. It’s helped me get faster on my PC and phone. The app includes games as well as typing tests, so it’s good at encouraging you to practice.

Ultimate Typing Championship Final 2010

Who Holds the World Record as the Fastest Touch Typist?

There is no international agreement on the equipment to be used when competing for a speed typing record. This has led several different people to claim they hold the world record. A key bone of contention is the type of keyboard used by competitors.

Qwerty keyboards are the standard layout found on most smartphones and PCs. They are so named because the first five letters on the top row of the keyboard spell QWERTY. It was designed based on the frequency of letters used in the English language. It was supposed to be a pattern that would cause the least stretch for the fingers of typists using manual typewriters.

Some people say that the layout of letters on the Qwerty keyboard is a contributory factor to repetitive strain injury (RSI.) They prefer an older layout called the Simplified American Keyboard which was patented in 1936 by Dr. Dvorak. The Dvorak keyboard claims to reduce finger motion and enables typists to increase their speed without losing accuracy.

USA Ultimate Typing Championship 2010

The first (and only) USA Ultimate Typing Championship was held in Texas in 2010. There was a 1st prize of $2,000 for the winner and the glory of being a record holder. The competition was held using Qwerty keyboards and the two finalists battled it out in front of a world-wide audience. The winner and current champion is American, Sean Wrona. He beat Nate Bowen in a best-of-three rounds speed typing exercise. In the final Sean reached speeds of 163 WPM although he achieved greater speeds than this in earlier rounds of the competition.

Guinness World Record Holders and Speed Typing

The Guinness Book of World Records has a number of speed typing record categories to allow for the wide variety of devices now available. These include smartphones and different keyboards layouts. The table below names the current world record holders in the different speed typing classes.

Fastest Typing World Record Holders

Year
Holder
Competition
1985
Barbara Blackburn
Fastest typing on a Dvorak keyboard
2010
Sean Wrona
USA Ultimate Typing Championship on QWERTY keyboard
2011
Grace Pak
Fastest typing on a smartphone

QWERTY vs Dvorak: Which Is Better?

Typing Achievements of Each Record Holder

Each record holder above completed different tests on dissimilar equipment. So, you will have to make up your own mind as to who is the current overall typing speed record holder.

Typing Fastest on a Dvorak Keyboard

1985 Barbara Blackburn of Salem, Oregon maintained a speed of 150 wpm for 50 min (37,500 key strokes) and attained a speed of 170 wpm using the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard (DSK) system. Her top speed was recorded at 212 wpm. Guinness Book of World Records

Typing Fastest Over Knockout Rounds on a QWERTY Keyboard

2010 Sean Wrona typed a 574-word text at 163 words-per-minute in the final round of the Das Keyboard Ultimate Typing Championships held in Texas USA. Das Keyboard

Typing Fastest on a Smartphone

2011 Grace Pak (USA) typed a prescribed 264-character text on a QWERTY mobile phone in 56.57 seconds at Abington Junior High School in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, USA. Guinness Book of World Records

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

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  • Eurofile profile image

    Liz Westwood 

    8 days ago from UK

    These are interesting statistics. I had a go at learning shorthand many years ago, with limited success. Touch typing would have been much more useful.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 

    10 days ago from Queensland Australia

    This is a very interesting article, Beth. I agree with Ann, I absolute hate trying to type on my smartphone, the small keyboard size, hitting the wrong key, and auto correct and predictive text I find actually slows me down.

    I much prefer to type on the laptop or computer and would be much faster on it, but my kids and grandkids are like lightning on their phones. I am sure using shortened terms like lol, rotfl etc helps young people type faster, and were the tests based on spelling accuracy? I actually find I tend to type too fast for my iPad so have to deliberately slow down so it captures all the words and then if I check back I find predictive text has got a lot of words wrong.

  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 

    11 days ago from SW England

    Interesting! I'm not surprised that the youngsters are better. Does the size of screen make a difference? I would think it would because of the finger to key ratio.

    I'm a touch typist so pretty fast on a normal keyboard but I don't even attempt that on the phone or tablet! I find it laborious & somewhat frustrating.

    When I watch my granddaughter on her phone, her fingers/thumbs seem to barely touch the screen.

    Well done on your research of this 'modern' phenomena!

    Ann

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