Scientific Proof the iPhone’s Keyboard Sucks. Now Prove Us Wrong.

racetracktypeoffblog.JPGBack when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, he made a point of poking fun of the traditional smart phone’s QWERTY keyboard. In fact, he was bold enough to say that the iPhone is “really fast to type on. It’s faster than all those little plastic keyboards.” You don’t say! Now, I’ve used the iPhone pretty regularly since its launch, and I can type at a pretty decent clip now, even if the error correction software can sometimes be distracting. But both in terms of tactile comfort and speed the iPhone’s keyboard can’t hold a candle to devices like the BlackBerry Curve, Samsung BlackJack II, and, yes, even the cramped Palm Centro. Don’t take my word for it though… To prove which smart phone keyboard is fastest, we invited three testers into our offices: a road warrior accustomed to using smart phones, a young professional interested in buying a smart phone, and a busy mom. Then we had each person type out the following paragraph from Moby Dick: “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”

And here are the results…

Tester Archetype The Recent Grad The Executive The Busy Mom Average Score
Name, Age, Occupation Trey, 23 Financial Analyst Chris, 42 Real Estate Finances Danielle,30 Stay-at-home mother, former talent negotiator
BlackBerry Curve (Time/Errors) 2:28/10 1:57/7 2:05/1 2:10/6
BlackBerry Pearl (Time/Errors) 5:19/7 2:27/10 3:13/9 3:39/8.7
Samsung BlackJack II (Time/Errors) 1:48/7 2:18/9 1:54/2 2:00/6
Apple iPhone (Time/Errors) 2:00/5 2:35/9 3:36/4 2:33/6
Palm Centro (Time/Errors) 1:59/8 2:19/8 2:41/3 2:19/6.3

As you can see from the results, the BlackBerry Pearl was the slowest of the bunch on average, but that’s mostly because our first tester just couldn’t figure out the lame SureType layout on that device. The iPhone was the second slowest of the five devices we tested, but it tied for first in terms of the least number of errors (thanks to some smart software). The BlackJack II was a full 30 seconds faster on average, and the Curve was no slouch either, besting the iPhone by 23 seconds. Even the Palm Centro, whose cramped keyboard has been widely criticized, beat the iPhone across the board in terms of speed, although its error rate was a bit higher. (Check out the posted video below of Trey, the fastest typer of them all, trying both the BlackJack II and the iPhone.) [flq:91ca95255afd4862a7465797aa8053ba] So, with all do respect, Mr. Jobs, you were wrong. Disagree? Try the test yourself and send us your results in the comments. Even better, post your video to YouTube and send us a link. If we think it’s legit we’ll link to it and eat crow. Happy typing.

AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Bill Says:

    SOCK IT TO ME!! WAKKA WAKKA WAKKA

  2. Bryan Says:

    You obviously have never done a “scientific” study in your life if you think a sample size of just 3 people proves anything at all. What a pile of drek – if you want to bash a company’s products, at least try to keep some semblance of reason in your articles or you just look like a fool.

  3. Mark Spoonauer Says:

    Point taken. I studied statistics and I know you need at least 30. So perhaps we should have said Scientific-ish. I still think this random sampling of different types of users is meaningful, especially considering that the iPhone lost out to the Centro. If you’re an iPhone owner, feel free to send us your time so we can add to the sample size.

  4. Steven Says:

    Wait…why does the expectation that a study be statistically significant only apply to Laptop Magazine? Given three data points, it’s not overwhelming, but then again, I’d still believe that small study over Job’s declaration that the iPhone is better because…it’s from Apple? Cute? New? Whatever. So, you want studies? Ask Apple for theirs…

  5. Jonathan Says:

    I do appreciate a good fixed keyboard, but I think this is overstating the case for the other phones a bit. The problem is that when you’re done typing, that keyboard is still there. A 3.5-inch screen may save you time while you read your messages and is certainly a lot better for things that don’t involve typing!

  6. John Says:

    The iPhone keyboard is really hard to use at first, and then after a few days, quite easy. Unless your readers only keep phones for three days, this is a pretty stupid test.

  7. Paul Lloyd Johnson Says:

    Wow, how scientific! I love how you class a device as sucking because it was 30 seconds slower but equally as precise as the competition. That doesn’t sound too bad from my point if view. This just sounds like a good ole iPhone bash to me, a pretty lame one aswell.

    I’d like to point out that I read and replied to your article on my iPhone in bed without wifi. Slow keyboard or not, this phone beats all others. Nothing compares to the interface and Safari browser.

  8. Mark Spoonauer Says:

    Responding to the last couple of comments…Yes, this was not a long-term usability study. But as I mentioned in the intro I’ve been using the iPhone since it’s launch–yes, I bought one–and I keep going back to the BlackBerry Curve because it’s keyboard is simply superior. Yes, the iPhone’s interface overall is miles better than any smart phone on the market, and same goes for the Safari browser. That’s why I’ve held onto both devices. But the iPhone is not in the same league as a messaging device. Granted, that’s not the iPhone’s intended purpose, but it was Steve Jobs who went out of his way to say the iPhone’s keyboard is better than plastic keyboards. Thus the impetus for this type-off. Does typing on the iPhone get easier and faster over time? Yup. Is is still worse than the Curve and BlackJack II? Yup.

  9. Rene McLean Says:

    Is the print version of Laptop as much of a mess as this website?

  10. Jeff Says:

    1:40/0

    First try, portrait orientation while reading from the computer screen and I have huge hands (size 13-14 ring). The iPhone EASILY has the best keyboard I have ever used on a phone or PDA. I do WAY more messaging than I ever did with anything before.

  11. Ginger Says:

    OK I’ll bite. I just popped out to my local AT&T store and asked to try a Blackberry, a Blackjack and an iPhone. I’ve never touched any of them before(nor an iPod Touch).
    My results:
    1st try
    Blackberry – 2.14 & 6 errors
    Blackjack – 2.28 & 4
    iPhone – 2.08 & 4

    2nd try & to get no errors
    Blackberry – 2.42
    Blackjack – 3.45
    iPhone – 1.42

    Thought the last timing for the iPhone was a mistake so did it again and got 1.37. The predictive/learning texting is obviously doing it’s job.

    The interesting thing to me was that it took a few seconds to set up the iphone for the test from switch on. The Blackberry and Blackjack took nearly two minutes from switch on and for me to figure out what I had to do.

  12. jonathan collins Says:

    I just did.
    1.30 and that wasn’t that fast because i forgot what to type and i corrected an error!

  13. Scott Kleinberg Says:

    Joanna from Laptop sent me a link yesterday to this article and I posted it at my iPhone blog. Either you guys are the slowest iPhone typists ever or there’s something wrong with your “scientific” sampling or “scientific-ish”

    It’s all in great, great fun, but I think you guys need to admit that you are wrong. :-D

  14. Todd Says:

    Just caught my interest. I have had an iphone since day 1 and unlike the author, I have loved it and have no problems with the keyboard whatsoever. I have to say that given a couple of weeks does make a big difference with the iphone keyboard as well as trusting its correctional functionality. I tried your experiment myself and typed the paragraph in 1 minute 22 seconds with 1 error. I typed “kind” instead of “mind.” I just used the “Notes” application so I typed in regular “vertical” mode.

    Just thought I would chime in.

    Todd

  15. Ryan Says:

    I just tried it with the iPod Touch – 1:47, one error.

    2nd try – 1:29, four errors.

  16. John Says:

    I had a BlackJack for quite some time before my iPhone. I never got used to its keyboard.

    Could it be that – imagine this! – that different people do better with different keyboards, depending on their typing style, the geometry of their hands, and general comfort with a device? And so no device is “best” but rather, people should experiment with them to figure out which works for them? OMG! Imagine that!

  17. Dave Says:

    1:26 for me on iPhone the first try with 3 errors… two because I started typing the wrong words. I’ve had my iPhone since November.

    1:14 with 1 error the second time.

    That was fun… and no doubt the iPhone has a learning curve. Maybe it’s just not for some people. One of the biggest benefits is that touching glass is silent.

  18. Jason Robinson Says:

    Good evening,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMnCEGGW4vo

    Here is a YouTube video. To my count, I typed the passage in 1:07. There is one error – I typed “little or np money”. (Sorry the video is backwards, I filmed it using OSX’s ‘Photo Booth’, which automatically flips video by default).

    iPhone’s keyboard system really is useful, and it *doesn’t* suck, if used properly. I can totally understand why many people like a physical keyboard better (certainly, there’s no way to type without looking on iPhone’s keyboard) – but it baffles me a bit so many people have reviewed it so horribly.

    The key is to – trust. Don’t be afraid of it. Most new users gingerly poke at the tiny keys with the tip of their finger, trying to hit the key “just so”. Thing is, iPhone *expects* you to mash your finger down in the general area of the key you want, and keep going – without waiting to see whether it worked. It really does do an amazing job of figuring out what you are trying to say.

    I’m not claiming the iPhone keyboard is necessarily “better” – but it’s certainly a valid contender, an entirely different system, sure – but it *doesn’t* suck! I use it regularly for long e-mails, and seem to average about 25 wpm.

    - Jason

  19. Paul Says:

    I have to say…I have always loved the “plastic” keyboard. I have used Treos for years and really liked them. I am now trying the Pearl and the sure type is very good at correction.

    …I don’t want to like the Iphone. Also, if the phone were more business centric I would buy it. I used the keyboard for the first time typing the same pace I use on the Treo and….NO ERRORS! I typed extra fast on it and got two errors.

    The test from this article is flawed.

  20. Rebecca Says:

    As an avid anything-that’s-not-Microsoft junkie, I’ve used Palm products for over 10 years and Apple products for over 5. With that said — I wouldn’t trade my Palm Centro for an iPhone if you paid me. I agree that the Centro keyboard is much more cramped than the Treo, and I won’t say the iPhone keyboard “sucks”. But I will say that that I giggle everytime I see a PDA-newbie try to figure out typing on an iPhone.

  21. Trent Says:

    on a Black Berry 8830, just typed it in 83 seconds.

    1 minute 23. and the keyboard on the 8830 (Sprint BlackBerry) sucks compared to the Curve.

  22. Nate Says:

    bad info take people accustomed to the iPhone keyboard and try that. I can type so much faster on my iphns than any other phone it is plain rediculous I have had a blackjack (original) bb curve and bb pearl and nothing comes close to iPhone.

  23. Manoa Says:

    I hated the Iphone when I started using it and quit using it for my blackberry 8700c (one of the best QWERTY smartphones ever).
    But I lost the blackberry on a flight and on a five day trip was forced to use the Iphone and at the end of the trip, I was more than fine with it– loved it– only problem then was syncing to exchange and outlook.
    With Iphone 2.0 adding Microsfoft ActiveSync and with the new cloud computing syncing of mac, Iphone, and PC (a revolution in itself!!)– I will tell you what– the enterprise is going Iphone. We will all be typing on that glass soon. Get used to it. In fact, watch RIM come out with a big screen virtual keyboard– the “plastic keyboard” is dead!!

  24. Evans Bennett Says:

    Just to put a vote in for the blackberry pearl, because i love this phone… did the test, two mistakes and 58 seconds timed with the computer stopwatch or whatever. been using the phone for 8 months, and i dont really find the sure type to be a problem at all. (also average 2500-3000 texts per month which helps) mistakes: “are” instead of “see” (darn sure type always switches them) and “gavin” instead of “having”

  25. Stephanie L. Says:

    This article actually made me want to buy an iPhone. I expect the keyboard to take a little getting used to…and, small sample size of people or not, I don’t find the time differences statistically significant…unless, because the iPhone keyboard WILL take a minute to get used to…the numbers actually plead the case FOR the iPhone.

  26. dfc Says:

    U have no problems with any input device,
    as with any OS/device, 30 year experience.
    But my mum on the other hand is new to computing and hates all the mobiles/pda’s I have gotten here.

    I unlocked many iPhones [1] for buds, and one let me have the phone for a two months (had to go back to CZ for some business, I already had one so I lent it to my mom, she loved it!!!! Was sending me SMS’s and surfing.. You name it.

    Anyhoot;

    She rang me a few days ago to tell me that she saw that iPhone 2 on the news and it was becoming available very soon if I could get her one immediately!

    So in respects to the tests done here & the reader feedback; I have Scientific Proof that the iPhone’s Keyboard Rocks!!!!

  27. dfc Says:

    “U” is meant to be “I”

  28. dfc Says:

    Oh and here is meant to be “her”;
    Dam Microsoft keyboard definitely not as good as my metal Apple keyboard!!

    Maybe I should get scientific proof before I make such a statement, I might call 3 friends that have apple metal keyboards and get a nice bias result for ya’s

  29. Richard Says:

    Where is the science here? All I see is a subjective comparison.

  30. iPhone owner and future iPhone 3G owner Says:

    I typed it in 1:20 but bc of lack of a watch I had to use the iPhone to time it as well so some of that time was spent opening the browser and getting the key board up then closing browser and stopping the timer, but I timed how long it takes to do that with out typing and it takes 8 sec so a net of
    1:12/1 error!!!
    the tragic flaw of this experiment was that the users were not acustomed to using any of these phones I’m sure that the time for even the plastic keyboards would be less if it was a phone that the user had used before

  31. Connor Says:

    This test is simply silly. Why not give the iPhone to each person for a few days…then let us see the times.

    I’ve been using my iPhone since the day it was released when i bought it from the Apple store in Austin.

    I just did your test – 1:01 with 1 error on the iPhone.

    The busy mom must have been REAL busy if it took her over 3 minutes to type that…

  32. Anonymous Says:

    I think it’s funny how many people try to put down Apple, Steve Jobs, and every single Apple product.

    In fact, it’s not funny, it’s sad.

  33. jim Says:

    The apple fanboys will wield their might fingers and defeat all who badmouth the great and might Jobs! What a bunch of losers.

  34. spooky Says:

    I agree that the sample size size is too small and the “experiment” just plain silly. I wanted to hate the iPhone–I’m an Mac geek who refuses to buy an iPod because, unlike Apple’s computer hardware which is priced at or slightly below the equivalent competing hardware (be sure you’re really comparing the equal components) iPods are too expensive for what they do and too restrictive. I can just drag and drop stuff onto my cheap mp3 players–no silly iTunes syncing. I’m also a Palm geek who still owns a 1997 PalmPilot Professional that still works (and with 1M RAM is otherwise useless) and former Treo and current Centro user. And yesterday I became an iPhone user as well when I bought a new iPhone 3G. Do I like it better than the Centro? We’ll see. I suspect I will–the screen is great–better than my Lifedrive even for surfing and Safari is superior to Blazer as well. I didn’t time myself on either device. I don’t like to use either keyboard unless I have to. But my feeling is that I will prefer Apple’s keyboard in the end.

  35. Rob Says:

    It’s Steve Jobs and his hyperbole that’s funny… And would be sad if it weren’t just Madison Ave.

    I get the point of the article, thanks. Have used a Treo for years, was worried about typing on the iPhone, I feel better about it now. Only other concern is reception (Verizon rocks for me, but I had a friend with an iPhone in my house and she couldn’t make any calls– That’s scary!).

  36. Andrew Says:

    Hmmm…
    I have still not tried an iPhone, although I’m really think I will soon now that the new 3G version is out. I’ve been a Palm OS Treo user since the 600 was introduced, and although I’ve been disappointed by some little things, in general the experience has been quite good. I’ve been attracted to the iPhone for some time, but the lack of 3G, lack of open development (the web-only application model) and lack of keyboard have just not been enough to move me out of the device I’ve become so accustomed to. With the new 3G version of the iPhone coming out though I’m getting more and more motivated to switch. I looked through the catalog of software being offered by 3rd parties now and I must say, with a couple of exceptions, there seemed to be everything available (or “almost” ready) for the iPhone that I use on a regular basis on my Treo.

    I will say though that I’m not sure if the small segment of those surveyed for this article were a good representation of the whole, and/or if the devices chosen were particularly the best devices; I pulled a 1:16 on my Treo 680 without one mistake! I even pulled out my old Nokia 9300i and was able to get a decent 1:38 on it with only 2 mistakes!

  37. Tony J. Says:

    How about the slide-out keyboard phones??

    I typed it in 1:12 on the Google G1 phone, and 1:14 on the AT&T Fuze (aka HTC Touch Pro). I like the G1 better for typing. My best time was 55 seconds on the G1. (No errors on any of these times… I can’t stand typos, misspellings, etc.).

    The advantage of a slide-out keyboard is that you have a hard keyboard there when you need it, but [obviously] can slide it back when you just want the full screen. The only downside is the extra weight/bulk, but I actually like that, because it makes the phone feel more sturdy and substantial. (Plus we’re only talking a few extra ounces here!).

  38. Mike Says:

    Microsoft ROCKS!!! I feel so bad when people say bad things about microsoft! Apple looks like a toy, and Microsoft is the best!

  39. Andy Says:

    Your point about the qwerty slide phone is a good one, since the keys can be a lot larger than on a blackberry size phone. Results for a head-to-head between 2 friends, qwerty slide phone versus iphone – 1:12 on the qwerty phone (no errors, even with punctuation), 3:23 on the iphone with 3 errors. Methinks the slide phone is an out-an-out winner, and Steve Jobs is being very economical with the truth!

  40. Jesse Says:

    I have been using the iPhone for 2 years now, and I cannot imagine how the little plastic keyboards could compete. First try: 1:10 error free (corrected several errors), second time: 55 seconds error free. I always type with it vertical, but got small fingers, so its not a big problem. In response to someone else’s statement: “certainly, there’s no way to type without looking on iPhone’s keyboard”, I would say that is certainly not true. After using the keyboard for such a long while, I can type most things without looking (really helps while typing a sentence you are reading), allows me to watch the output to catch errors faster. Interesting article, but I think it would be much better to compare people that have been using each phone for a year+.

  41. Kerin Says:

    I’m not an iPhone fanboy, but Mark – wow, you’re kind of a tool.

    >>I studied statistics and I know you need at least 30. So perhaps we should have said Scientific-ish.

    Okay!

    >>I still think this random sampling of different types of users is meaningful, especially considering that the iPhone lost out to the Centro.

    …So you studied statistics. That’s great. Only here you’re admitting that the test is unscientific, but arguing that the results are still meaningful because… you agree with the results? What? Let’s not even get into your “random sampling,” which isn’t random because you handpicked them and is barely a sampling because it’s only three friggin’ people!

    >>If you’re an iPhone owner, feel free to send us your time so we can add to the sample size.

    Soliciting more data exclusively from the group most familiar with the keyboard to add to the sample size? Nice. That’s even more damaging to this study than incorporating results you didn’t directly witness.

    A credit in statistics taken as part of your business degree does not mean you’ve “studied” statistics.

  42. Moose Says:

    Got 55 wpm with 1 error on my iphone 3gs using textspeed! :D

  43. WG Says:

    You can turn the iphone sideways for a bigger keyboard, I’m much faster that way.

  44. michael Says:

    i dunno iphones the coolest so who cares.

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