Teens’ touchscreen typing speeds put their parents attempts to shame

Young folks typically mark themselves out from older generations through their slang, the way they dress, their attitudes to key social issues, and the entertainment they consume. But when it comes to today’s teenagers, there’s one more marker: The speed at which they can type on a touchscreen mobile device.

According to a new large scale study of more than 37,000 users, there is now a mobile device “typing gap” between today’s 10- to 19-year-olds and their parents’ generation. The tween and teenage users tested were capable of typing around 10 words per minute (WPM) faster than people their parents’ age.

The largest experiment of its kind was carried out by researchers from Aalto University, University of Cambridge, and ETH Zürich, with the aid of typing speed test service TypingMaster.com. It analyzed thousands of results from 160 countries all over the world. Volunteers were asked to transcribe a series of sentences, which were then scored according to speed, error rate, and other factors.

“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,” Anna Feit, a researcher at ETH Zürich, said in a statement. “While one can type much faster on a physical keyboard, up to 100 WPM, the proportion of people who actually reach that is decreasing. Most people achieve between 35-65 WPM.”

The “typing gap” the researchers note refers to the difference between typing on a keyboard and smartphone. However, it may as well also refer to different generations as they show an aptitude for different kinds of typing. Younger people are more likely to be faster at typing on a touchscreen than old folks. Although there’s still a speed gap between a physical keyboard and a touchscreen, the researchers think this will close. That’s partly due to young people being less confident at using physical keyboards and partly to do with new touch technologies such as autocorrect.

The study also unveiled some interesting insights, such as the fact that word suggestion features can actually make typing slower — since the time spent thinking about a word to select can outweigh the time it would actually take to type it out. The best predictor of typing speed performance on a mobile device is whether a person uses one or two thumbs to type. More than 74% of people type using two thumbs, which results in a big speed increase over one thumb.

Oh, and the fastest typing speed the researchers found on a smartphone? A mind-boggling 85 words per minute!

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