Tablet computers are rapidly becoming a significant factor in the national digital environment. Recent evidence shows that 35% of all Americans over the age of 16 own and use a tablet regularly (1). Users like the convenience of mobility and access to ‘just-in-time’ information, valuable for both business and leisure activities.
Tablets generally offer more computing-power than most other mobile-options. However, typing is one performance-area where tablets show no advantage or particular convenience. Most tablets rely on an on-screen keyboard as a substitute for physical keys. In its current stage of development, the process is awkward and slow, which is unfortunate because the lack of trouble-free, unconstrained typing interferes with essential tablet-functions (2).
Even if you have little reason to do much tablet-typing, you’ll need to use the on-screen keyboard for emails and web searches. And many find the process cumbersome and time-consuming. Tablet screen-typing is much easier when it’s held in landscape mode, as the screen-keyboard is wider and has larger keys. That’s helpful, and may improve your typing-speed, but don’t expect the on-screen, touch keyboard to equal the dexterity and alacrity offered by tablet keyboard cases currently on the market.
In this regard, there seems little doubt that users agree. Our recent survey indicates that people believe tablet screen-typing is far slower than using a keyboard, by a rate of 140% (3).
For some, the idea of typing-speed is beside the point, almost an echo of the past, as if having to type, or write in any form, to communicate will soon be passé. In their eyes, best-practice is future-focused; keyboards will be replaced by tablet-functions like voice recognition and smart assistants. Innovative development of tablets could soon add to these possibilities.
However, the basic premise of the tablet has always been confounded by the touch-keyboard, its major functional weakness. Tablets use touch-screen keyboards for text-entry; screen typing speed just does not compare with external keyboard functionality. The readily-accessible surface ‘keyboard’ relies too much on touching non-physical keys, which simply don’t respond to your touch with the same sureness OR speed of keyboard cases (4).
Point in fact, the best external tablet keyboard cover offers all a keyboard’s special symbols — those other than letters — on the same work surface, the keyboard itself. The on-screen tablet-touch version positions these same special symbols one or more screens away, a factor certain to slow typing speed under virtually any conditions.
Although on-screen soft keyboards are undoubtedly useful, and extend the utility of the inclusive tablet, their limits are apparent. Unless messages are short, soft keyboards actually retard communications, because their typing-speed is substantially slower than hard keyboard covers. Their lesser speed in many ways restrains the very purpose of tablets — extreme, portable convenience and efficiency.
Both suffer, where typing is required. This should remain the case until soft on-screen typing technologies markedly improve. Current touch interfaces are slow; tablet users will continue to work more slowly, while clumsily pressing their fingers against a resistant glass panel not really designed for typing. And, at present, speech recognition and similar technologies are in their infancy, offering far less accuracy than communications typed even moderately fast (5).
What is true is that if you have poor touch-typing skills your speed will be low when either tablet-screen typing or using a hardware keyboard. In general, however, the evidence suggests that keyboard typing is faster for most users, most of the time. This condition is especially true for long entries, where keyboard cases for tablets seem to have a distinct speed (and accuracy) advantage over soft on-screen versions.