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iPhone texting harder than QWERTY devices - report

updated 09:15 pm EST, Tue November 13, 2007

iPhone input not perfect

While many believe that experience improves the iPhone typing accuracy, a new study found that more experience does not generally improve texting error rates for iPhone users and also indicates that iPhone owners generally perform worse than their numeric phone or QWERTY-device counterparts. The study did find that iPhone owners entered text as rapidly as those with QWERTY devices, but that error rates of iPhone users were significantly higher. After studying iPhones users who had their device more than 30 days, the Chicago-based usability consultancy User Centric found that texting errors on the iPhone were significantly more than both numeric- and QWERTY-based devices. The study concluded that "compared to hard-key QWERTY devices, the iPhone may fall short for consumers who use on their mobile device heavily for email and text messaging."

The company noted that the iPhone's predictive and corrective text features do alleviate some of the errors users make while texting, but it does not catch them all.

"While the iPhone's corrective text feature helps, this data suggests that iPhone users who have owned the device for a month still make about the same number of errors as the day they got it," said Gavin Lew, Managing Director. "iPhone is a great switch from a numeric phone. But if you're switching from a hard-key QWERTY phone, try the iPhone in the store first."

The firm had previously found that test participants found the iPhone's touch keyboard overly sensitive despite the iPhone's overall high usability; however, its new usability study compared texting experiences of iPhone owners and non-owners across devices.

iPhone owners, the study found, made significantly more texting errors on their own phone -- an average of 5.6 errors/message) -- than both QWERTY owners (2.1 errors/message) and numeric phone owners (2.4 errors/message) on their own phones.

Interestingly, comparing texting performance between iPhone owners and novices (non-owners) on the iPhone found no significant difference in error rates.

The firm said it collected data from 60 participants who entered specific text messages and completed mobile device tasks, including 20 iPhone owners (who owned for more than a month), 20 hard-key QWERTY phone (aka QWERTY) owners, and 20 numeric phone owners (multi-tap texters) all entered six fixed-length text messages on their own phones. Non-iPhone owners also entered six messages on a test iPhone and a phone of another type (the Blackberry was the other phone for numeric users while QWERTYs used a Samsung E300).

Unfamiliar Users Performed Best on Hard-Key QWERTY Phone

User Centric said also compared users' performance on unfamiliar phones and found -- as would be expected -- that numeric phone owners had faster text entry on a hard-key QWERTY phone than on the iPhone; they also made significantly fewer errors on the hard-key QWERTY devices.

"Participants also indicated a preference for hard-key QWERTY phones when texting," said Jen Allen, User Experience Specialist. In addition, the iPhone still lacks some critical texting features, such as the ability to forward texts to others and the ability to send the same text to multiple recipients. Apple's three software updates since the release in July have not addressed these issues.

Hit rates and False Alarm Keys

Interesting, the study found that the hit rates (i.e., the percentage of time the desired key was pressed) for all keys on the iPhone keyboard were consistently 90 percent or higher, but much lower than the 97 percent for all keys on a QWERTY keyboard (except 'V', which was 96 percent). According to the firm, the 'W' key had the lowest hit rate, while the 'Q' key had the highest hit rate. The average hit rate was about 95 percent. Not surprisingly, the keys on the outside of the keyboard, such as Q, A, Z, and P, L, and M, had high hit rates.

Some of those same keys, however, were pressed more inadvertently that others. Dubbed "false alarm rates," the study found that participants were repeatedly pressing certain keys when they intended instead to press other adjacent keys ("false alarm key"). Several iPhone keys had high false alarm rates: Q (66%), P (27%), J (22%), X (21%), and Z (15%). In contrast, the median false alarm rate across the iPhone entire keyboard was just 5.48 percent.

Both iPhone and QWERTY keys with the highest false alarm rates were those in close proximity to the five most frequently used letters in the English language -- E, T, A, O, and I. In addition to the high false alarm letters listed above, other false alarm letters included 'W' (10%), 'R' (6.5%), 'Y' (8.7%), and 'S' (6.0%), which are also adjacent to high-frequency letters. The study also found that the letter 'B' (8.2%) also had a high false alarm rate, potentially because of its location near the letter N (which is the sixth most frequent letter). All keys on a QWERTY device had false alarm rates of less than 3 percent (except 'Q', which was 8%).

The firm also found that Q and P keys were problematic for users of both keyboards, suggesting that the issue for these keys arises from their location near the top edges of the keyboards.

by MacNN Staff





  1. - - e r i k - -

    Joined: Dec 1969


    No surprises here

    Touch screens can never replace true tactile feedback.

    Not to say that I still don't want an iPhone though :P

  1. tomodachi

    Joined: Dec 1969



    I can understand where the errors come from. Most of the times, I'm not even looking at what I'm typing and so the predictive/corrective text feature would sometimes guess something utterly wrong and I wouldn't catch it. I can see that only in terms of "accuracy", an average iPhone user would score less than hardware qwerty keys or numeric keys.

    But what constitutes performing better or worse? There's no WAY people type as slow on the iPhone as they would on numeric keys. I can probably type 5-10 times faster on my iPhone than I used to on my old Sony Ericsson with T9. So if I spent perhaps 5% of my typing time checking for errors, I can definitely reduce my error rate to near zilch, while maintaining a 3-5 time faster rate than typing on numeric keys.

    So the point is, you have to alter the way you interact with the keyboard. The urge to type as fast as you can then send the message is strong, but because the iPhone's keyboard is a virtual one that's highly dependent on the predictive/corrective feature, you have to learn to stop and check what you wrote before sending.

    At the end of the day, it's a no-brainer that a hardware keyboard QWERTY is going to produce better results, both in terms of speed and accuracy -- that's the tradeoff between having a butt-ugly keyboard and a tiny-a** screen and having a beautiful ginormous screen and quite a competent virtual keyboard.

    As for comparing with numeric keys... please, it's an insult to even make that comparison.

  1. eddd

    Joined: Dec 1969


    lies, damn lies...

    This smacks of poor measurement design and incomplete data. Not to be an Apple fanboi, but i have real-life experience that shows otherwise. I've never had a qwerty phone, but I've had a numeric and a BlackBerry Pearl (sort of an in-between solution), and there's simply no way that these compare with the iPhone in accuracy, speed or ease of typing. I spent much more time making corrections on those other phones, and typed slower to boot. The iPhone keyboard is a huge improvement... so much so that i would never go back.

    Now a qwerty phone might be even better, but I'll gladly trade that for this beautiful screen and smaller size (most qwerty phones are significantly bulkier). This report is simply incomplete and misleading.

  1. dotcom

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Apples and Oranges

    I'll cut to the quick ...

    Two months on iPhone: Check and reply to email daily, it is almost as good as being on my MBP.

    3 years with RAZR - texted maybe 3 times, never used it for email because it sucked.

    I might have been able to type as quickly on the numeric keypad, but I doubt it ... but more importantly it didn't even tempt me to try.

  1. lurkerdude

    Joined: Dec 1969


    about the same

    ... in my experience, just different pros and cons.

    The cons:

    The magnifying glass is c***. Gimme some virtual arrow keys or something.

    I still type with one finger. The two thumb method, I just could never get accurate. And while a regular phone requires one finger typing, it's usually with the thumb, meaning it can be done with the hand holding the phone.]

    The error correction stuff in the iPhone is pretty good, but there are some areas where it is little or no help. The U-I-O keys are problematic... there are so many words that differ by just one of these letters. It makes me wonder if it would be easier to not use a QWERTY arrangement. Why not just do what the Wii does and include an option for a virtual phone keypad for texting? AND layer the error correction and target expansion on top of that?

    Keys at the edge of the screen are harder to press accurately... especially with a neoprene sleeve or some other cover that raises the edge of the iPhone.


    The longer the word, the easier it is to type.

    The multiple keyboard layouts are definitely a strength. I wish they would add more optional layouts.

    Much easier to grow the dictionary, compared to, say, a Nokia phone.

    Readability and writability go hand in hand... the small clear fonts and the extra screen real estate make it much easier to type... Ironically, if you turn the phone sideways for a bigger keyboard, the visible screen is tiny.

  1. Will53

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Various languages

    It is something I've tried to learn about the iPhone's correcting feature; can it be turned off? T9 is completely useless to me, for instance, as I may send one SMS in Norwegian, the next in English, yet another one in Swedish and perhaps a fourth in Portuguese. This isn't so uncommon among Europeans and how would iPhone tackle that, I wonder?

  1. Meovv

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Re: various languages

    I agree. The iPhone has an ability to learn the words that you accept. But in my case this just means that the iPhone adds a bunch of my Swedish words into its English dictionary. These words then get suggested when I type in English.

  1. Toyin

    Joined: Dec 1969



    They are basing this on 60 users? Come on get real. I love my iphone and I type much better on this then I ever did on my Treo. Why, because I hated typing on it and never tool the time to get good at using it's keyboard.

    Typed on my iphone while riding in a car.

  1. dynsight

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Qwerty Full

    I agree that the iPhone is better than the press three times to get a letter RAZR, it is much faster. But if one compares it to a Blackberry with a full keyboard, the Blackberry wins. Not scientific, we had three iPhone users two black berry users and four standard phone users type the pledge of allegiance (not patriotic, just something we all knew).

    The iPhones won in speed, BUT had 40% and 60% more errors. The blackberries were very, very close behind in speed, but less errors.

  1. pottymouth

    Joined: Dec 1969


    disagree 100%

    I could never get the numeric keypad method. I always found it slow and a general PITA. The trick to typing on an iPhone is just to trust it. Don't worry about the typos as you type. The iPhone will fix em 99% of the time.

    Oh, and don't type shorthand. Besides just looking looking like an idiot, your "U" instead of "you" and "4" instead of "for" are sure to confuse it.

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