Text Input Methods: Comparison

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One thing I was taught at dear old Mother Technology [mumble] decades ago: Always take measurements.

Handwriting recognition feels faster to me. Dictation (speech recognition) feels incredibly slow. On-screen keyboard typing feels awkward, and I find my tendency to reverse letters on output frustrating when I use a Bluetooth keyboard. But that’s just subjective impressions — Real Engineers get Facts.

I’ve therefore run a one-woman experiment: What is the best way for me to get words out of my head and onto, well, some medium readable by someone else? When evaluating these results, please keep in mind:

  • I’ve had a typing course and lots of practice, but I’m no speed demon. In a formal typing test I run about 30-50 words per minute.
  • I spent decades Before Word Processors, writing important correspondence longhand either for transcription by a secretary or as a direct communication.
  • These tests were conducted as free-writing: I was “keeping the pen moving” (or keyboard or whatever) — not pausing to think about what I was writing, but also not working from a copy. My intention was to determine the upper speed limit of getting thoughts, however disorganized, from my brain into an externally legible form. Actual writing of a story will go slower than this, as I pause to actually think about what I want to write.
  • Test conditions: For each method, I set a timer for 25 minutes, about as long as I can stand to write in an uninterrupted block. Results displayed are average words per minute. I correct spelling and punctuation as I go from long habit; therefore, speeds reported for handwriting recognition and speech recognition are net of error correction afterwards.
  • YMMV — depending on your handwriting, your typing speed, and your ability to enunciate clearly, you may get different results.

THE RESULTS:

Longhand
15.5 WPM
Shorthand
19.4 WPM
Handwriting Recognition (WritePad 3rd party keyboard in Index Card app)
9.1 WPM
Handwriting Recognition (Smart Notes app by MyScript)
Abandoned after correcting for 6 minutes with much less than half the writing corrected.
Dictation (iOS Speech Recognition in Index Card app)
18.7 WPM
Typing (Bluetooth keyboard in Index Card app)
27.4 WPM
Typing (onscreen iOS keyboard in Index Card app)
16.5 WPM

CONCLUSIONS:
As you can see, handwriting recognition stinks as long-form input for me. It can never be faster than my longhand speed, and in fact typing on a keyboard, typing on-screen, and (surprise!) dictation are much more efficient; typing on a keyboard more so than even training a human to read my home-grown shorthand and paying said human to transcribe it.

Despite my love for it, I would be wise to limit my use of handwriting recognition to short texts or emails. If for some reason I want to write and don’t have my Bluetooth keyboard with me, I should either dictate or type on the screen.

And yet, and yet — I still love handwriting recognition.

DEFINITIONS:

Longhand
Actual English cursive writing, good enough to be puzzled through by another human.
Shorthand
Not real Gregg shorthand, but the abbreviated cursive by which I take notes in meetings or classes. I can read it, if I remember what I was writing about (this is why block letter titles and scrawled illustrations exist in my actual notes.) No one else can (which is why I got Ds on handed-in notes.)
Typing
On an iPad, either via Bluetooth keyboard or by the built-in onscreen keyboard.
Dictation
Speech recognition on an iPad, using the Apple built-in dictation capability.
Handwriting Recognition
By one of the two handwriting recognition apps on the iPad which I own. I use my cursive longhand for this.
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One thought on “Text Input Methods: Comparison

  1. Pingback: My New Favorite Input Method–Nintype | A Study In Silver

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