How fast we are typing with the cell phone, and some keys to write faster

In the spring of 1958, Rose Pamphyle meets Louis Échard and he quickly becomes his personal trainer. In the following year and a half, Pamphyle will win each and every one of the championships of Calvados, Lower Normandy and France. Finally, in the last months of 59, she will become world champion in New York. Pamphyle is not a soccer player, nor an athlete, nor a chess player: he is a typist. And, although it is not a real case, but the plot of the Populaire movie, it perfectly reflects a subworld that existed (and in what way) in the central decades of the twentieth century: that of typing speed contests. Barbara Blackburn, without going any further, was able to spend 50 minutes writing at the incredible speed of 150 words per minute in 1985. The average speed on a full-size Qwerty keyboard, to get an idea, is usually 52. But, how about with a mobile cellphone?

As expected, the results vary greatly according to the technique. As explained in the MobileHCI 2019, an international conference on Human-Computer Interaction focused on mobile devices, users who write with a single finger reached, on average, 29 words per minute (wpm). However, users who dominated writing with two thumbs reached 38 words. This is only 25% less than the average speeds in Qwerty keyboards. Not bad, although, yes, there were some who managed to write on their mobile phones at a whopping 85 wpm.

Keys to write faster

In general, researchers have confirmed that age is an important factor. While adolescents exceed the average of 40 wpm, those over 45 are around 28 words per minute. This obviously has a lot to do with the fact that young people are, in general, much more intensive users of mobile keyboards than their middle-aged counterparts. There are more interesting findings: the study’s conclusions suggest that the auto-correct facility increased the writing speed to 9 wpm. On the other hand, the predictive keyboard delays, on average, two words per minute. The explanation is related to attention: while the auto-correct facility, as we know, works without paying much attention, the prediction requires us to choose words and distracts us.

In general, as noted by Anna Feit, co-author of the study and researcher at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, the advice seems clear: «If you want to be fast (typing with your mobile), use both thumbs and activate self-correction, although sometimes it can be annoying». And, above all, «keep using it» until you master it perfectly. That would give us 47 wpm on average. Now Qwerty you may tremble.

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