The owners of some of the world’s fastest fingers gathered in Cincinnati last month to put a new typing gadget through its paces. As a trusted supplier of legal transcription services, Language Insight was certainly keen to learn whether this tool sped up the typing skills of typists who are already lightning fast.

The Cincy Typing Challenge took place on July 25th at the Cincinnati Museum Centre to mark the 125th anniversary of Ohio’s first speed typing competition. Back in 1888 more and more people had started to learn to type, but because of the relative infancy of the skill there were still numerous methods of doing it. As hard as it seems to believe today, the QWERTY key layout was not always the only way to type, and another popular option was the double key layout. While QWERTY relied on typists learning the position of the keys so they did not need to look at them as they typed, the double key method saw people looking at the keyboard and typing with either two or four fingers. This keyboard was also larger as it had separate keys for lower and upper case letters.

Frank McGurrin was a firm advocate for the QWERTY method and set out to prove it in a typing challenge when he went head-to-head with Louis Traub, who supported the double key system. Such was the excitement surrounding the typing competition it became famous worldwide. McGurrin was named victor and not only won the prize but also helped to establish the QWERTY system as the leading typing method – and one we all take for granted today.

This year’s challenge was free to enter and the finalists were selected from the first few heats and then invited to try and beat McGurrin’s score of 98 words per minute (WPM). Competitors were invited to either keyboard type or text type a series of sentences created by sponsor Outlier Technologies. Participants could use either an old fashioned typewriter or a computer keyboard, while the texting competition was held separately.

The top four participants from both the typewriter and keyboard rounds then progressed to the final, where they had to type using one of Outlier Technologies’ TREWGrips. This is a handheld rear-typing and mouse product designed to be used on mobile devices.

Fastest finger first

Robert Price from Cincinnati won the competition overall, walking away with $5000 (£3,223) after beating McGurrin’s time and managing a speed of 115 WPM on the TREWGrip. However, according to his Typeracer profile he is capable of speeds much greater than that. Price lists his full average speed at 135.8 WPM and his best time as 185 WPM – which eclipses McGurrin’s winning speed of 98 WPM.

Changing technology means that typists are constantly having to fine tune their skills. Michael Shestov is one typist who certainly has nimble fingers; being able to type at a speed of up to 17 characters per second on a computer keyboard. In an interview with CNN he revealed that he couldn’t even remember what it was like to type on an old-fashioned typewriter.

Shestov has broken records by typing numbers, as, unlike words, they are universal and so it’s easier to measure the speed of typing them at an international level. Shestov is not only a master of the computer keyboard, but also the piano keys. You can finds out more about him in our previous blog.

Goodbye QWERTY?

Typing and transcription are on the cusp of changing again. Mobile phones and tablet computers are altering the way we type because of their touchscreen technology. While, as McGurrin proved, the QWERTY layout is perfect for facilitating touch-typing, it is not such an efficient layout for touchscreen technology. In light of this, researchers at St Andrews University Max Planck Institute for Informatics and Montana Tech have come up with a new layout, which they have named KALQ. The developers claim this system is more beneficial for people using two thumbs to type, as is common on a touchscreen mobile phone handset.

Of course, it’s not only speed that’s important, but also accuracy. That’s why Language Insight prides itself on the high quality transcription services we offer. Our dictation service is fast and reliable, as our typists all have years of experience. In the future, it might even be one of their names we see listed among the world’s fastest typists.