OMG! Study finds iPhone texting 2x slower than QWERTY

OMG! Study finds iPhone texting 2x slower than QWERTY

Summary: Updated below: A study has determined that iPhone's touchscreen is two times slower than QWERTY phones when it comes to texting. OMG!

TOPICS: iPhone, Mobility

Updated below: A study has determined that iPhone's touchscreen is two times slower than QWERTY phones when it comes to texting.


This study was conducted by User Centric, a Chicago-based usability consultant. User Centric concludes:

It took QWERTY users almost twice as long to create the same message on the iPhone as it did on their QWERTY phone. While there was improvement over time, the difference persisted even after using the iPhone for 30 minutes.

Actually, this isn't all that surprising to me. The big question is whether the gap closes over time. In fact, before reading this study I would have guessed iPhone would have been even slower.

As for the methodology here's what User Centric had to say in a statement:

User Centric tested the iPhone's texting features with frequent texters to see how rapidly they could adapt to the iPhone's touch keyboard. All 20 participants sent at least 15 messages per week. Ten participants owned phones with a full QWERTY keypad and 10 owned phones with a numeric keyboard. None of the participants owned an iPhone. Each participant typed six fixed-length text messages on their own phone and six on an iPhone.

Hole number 1: I'd like to see results from folks that have had an iPhone from the launch. In general, User Centric said that iPhone's touch keyboard was inaccurate. Most users corrected errors with a backspace to erase a character. Does this improve over time?

Hole number 2: The study is based on 20 people. No one owned an iPhone and half of respondents had QWERTY phones. The other half had numeric keypads. A larger sample would have been nice.

User Centric also noted that numeric-based "multitap" texting took about the same amount of time. The consultant said:

In contrast to QWERTY users, numeric users used the "multitap" method of entering text messages on their phones. They pressed individual number keys multiple times to get a desired letter or character to appear. Although multitap is inherently inefficient, numeric phone users took nearly as long to create a message on the iPhone as they did on their numeric phones. There was no increase in efficiency despite the iPhone's corrective text approach.

User Centric did come up with some other interesting takeaways in its study:

  • Most participants said their fingertips were too large for the iPhone touch keyboard.
  • Participants noticed there was no tactile feedback from the iPhone keypad.
  • Participants had 11 errors on the iPhone compared to three on their own phone.
  • Five out of 20 respondents wanted a stylus.
  • Long fingernails could be a problem.

Update: Jen Allen, a user expert specialist at User Centric, had some comments on my post. Here is her reply in full.

1)  Back in July, User Centric conducted a study testing early adopters of the iPhone.  After these early adopters had used their iPhone for a week, they came in for the study:

One of the anecdotal findings from that study was that users reported having trouble texting with the iPhone, which was the motivation for the current study.

2)  Due to space limitations, the press release did not go into great detail on the technical aspects of the testing.  User Centric's test methodology employed a 2x2 mixed factorial design.  Type of phone owned by the participant was varied between subjects.  However, participants typed text messages on both their own phone and the iPhone during the test session.  Message length, phone order, and message order were both controlled.  While the sample size of 20 may seem low, it did provide us with statistically significant results.

The sample was recruited in the Chicago area.  Participants were required to send at least 15 text messages per week.  In most cases, participants sent many more than this, particularly the QWERTY users.

3)  User Centric has tested over 500 participants for various mobile phone studies in 2007 with approximately 2,000 in the last few years. The company will conduct another study on text entry using mobile phones in the coming weeks.  It should be in the press in another month or so, and will hopefully shed more light on some of the remaining questions surrounding these issues.

Topics: iPhone, Mobility

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  • Refreshing

    To see someone actually analyze a study instead of just going for the headline grab.
    • iPhone for a week test needed

      What is not dwelt on is the fact the subjects of this small sample study had no time to get used to the iPhone.

      They were all seasoned users of QWERTY and multi-tap phones and yet were given no acclimatisation time with the iPhone?

      Doesn't sound like a fair comparison to me.

      • Uh-huh.....

        I totally agree. Seems like they just snatched up the first article that what get them hits.
  • Interesting, but is it worthwhile?

    I don't own an iPhone, and maybe never will because I don't have a need for it yet.

    While it is interesting that there is obviously some sort of learning curve with typing on an iPhone... it doesn't matter.

    The device is what it is, using the technology that Apple has chosen. I personally think it's pretty cool, and if some segment of the population cannot get up to speed on it, too bad. They probably shouldn't be buying one.

    It's like another Zdnet blog a while back about ING dumping troublesome internet customers. If you can't grasp self-serve Internet banking, you are probably not the customer they want.
    • I think it is a worthwhile evaluation

      The test highlights one of several significant lackings in the iPhone's current implementation - lack of haptic feedback

      The all touch screen interface is cool (albeit swiped from LG) and Apple's UI mavens definitely gave the device a slick spin but...

      With an inherently all touch screen interface, lack of haptic feedback means the user has to look at the screen all the time while using it both to see where to touch and for feedback that the touch was recognized - on qwerty and numeric - text messages can be done without concentrating on the keys 100% during entry - have you ever tried typing a letter on one of the early flat glass top touch keyboards??

      Doubt that texting speed will significantly improve from their test results just due to the inherent restrictions of the man/machine interface -- and the test apparently only tested numeric keypad texters who used double tap - speeds for iTap style texting (which is 2-3 times faster than double tap) will be tough to beat.

      Solid voice to text recognition and some kind of touch feedback is what's needed in iPhone 2.0 - if they can get that working, it'll greatly improve usability

      3G networking is also a must for 2.0 - how anyone launches what they claim to be the new state of the art in handheld PC/phone devices without 3G data is beyond me - once you use it you see that the "calamari" commercial was clearly pieced together during post-production.
  • I am not a fan of the iPhne touch keyborad...

    but not for the reasons mentioned.
    1) It wont always work in landscape(Just certain apps)
    2) It is not a full qwerty keyboard Numbers/punctuations are on a secondary selection. Just try to type an email address in.

    However this study seems biased based on the statement from the article, users were using their own phone (who knows how long they have been using them) so they would have an advantage of having used their phone for some time. and only 30 minutes with an iPhone. I think the test would have been fairer if they gave them a phone with a qwerty keyboard they had never used before.

    "Participants had 11 errors on the iPhone compared to three on their own phone."
    • I agree.....

      Instead of one familar phone and the iPhone it should have been two different
      phones one with a traiditional keypad and the iPhone with it's solution. Then give
      them a longer time line to get use to both. In fact it might have been a better
      study if they gave them a different phone like phone A one with a traditional
      keypad but different from the one they are use to using for a month and the
      phone B an iPhone for a month but not BOTH at the same time I kind of thing that
      is a sort of bias as well cause "IF" they had a choice to go with the familiar it
      makes sense that they would.

      Pagan jim
  • iPhone texting

    I'm surprised there wasn't more research done on this aspect by Apple. When I have tested the phone, I also had some issues with my fingers hitting the wrong spots, being too big etc...
    • Me too,

      but it didn't really take a whole lot of time to find the sweet spot on those keys.
      Kid Icarus-21097050858087920245213802267493
  • True But False

    I'd agree that I typed slower on my iPhone keyboard for a couple of days. But by the
    end of the first week, I was about as fast as I ever was with my Treo. After two weeks I
    was much faster than I was with my Treo. The lack of real buttons really allows a sort
    of "tap and slide" style where your thumbs never go far from the keys. Once you get
    the distance right with practice (picking up your finger or thumbs just enough not to
    trigger the keyboard after the tap), you can really fly on it.
    • The only thing to know about texting... it is old school tech and lines wireless carrier CEO pockets with cash.

      Text messaging seems a lot like the telegraph. Instead of being used on a network of wires, it is just wireless and personal now. Big whoop.
  • It's New It's Different...

    folks will evolve. Image the same study done when people first stated texting with
    those tiny buttons and keyboards. OMG!
    • Its new, Its different, It sux. (nt)

      • NATG posts surprising post

        Yea, right.

        Go play in the PC articles, you annoying creature. You've never even been out of your
      • Not according to it's users 92% favorable rating....

        9 out of 10 will recommend it. That is powerful first hand word of mouth advertising
        that Apple does not have to pay for.

        Pagan jim
        • *ahem*

          Most Mac users will recommend mac. Does that mean that mac is better? God no. Mac USED to be prettier. It USED to be more stable. It USED to be blah blah blah. Mac is a free R&D for Microsoft. Get over it.
          • *ahem* - are all iPhone customers Mac users?

            I saw a poll that showed 50 percent of iPhone customers are none Mac users, or never owned an Apple product before. The iPod and now the iPhone are cross platform and are in separate category from the Mac. So if someone is recommending an iPod or iPhone, it does not mean they are only Mac users or Apple 'fanatics' doing so. Got it! :-)

            But yes Macs are free R&D for Microsoft, said that for years
  • Is this science?

    The study took a group of users expert in using their phones for sending text messages, gave them a new interface (the iPhone) and reported that they were slower, even after "30 minutes" of use. This isn't a very surprising or useful study.

    What's the control group? Is this unique to the iPhone UI, or do querty users have the same experience when moving to keypads? (And do keypad users have the same experience when moving to querty?) What's the learning curve for novice users going to the various UIs? What's the rate for expert iPhone users?
    • well...

      Play a video game for half an hour. It's plenty of time to get well adjusted to the controls. So if people can't adjust to an itty bitty on screen touch pad that doesn't work well, it's not their fault. I blame Apple XD
  • I did my own scientific study.

    I used a pool of one, who has only texted on numeric keypads. I, I mean he, was a
    heck of a lot faster on the iPhone immediately. I think my study was less flawed
    than theirs.

    My favorite, though: "Participants noticed there was no tactile feedback from the
    iPhone keypad." Duh.