Study finds new iPhone users are not instant iPhone experts

There’re are a few articles popping up about this “study,” so here is the press release verbatim:

QWERTY Texters Demonstrated Drop in Efficiency When Texting on iPhone

August 8, 2007 – In late July, Chicago-based usability consultancy User Centric, Inc. tested the iPhone’s touch keyboard in comparison with conventional QWERTY and numeric phone keyboards. In an earlier baseline study, User Centric had identified texting as potentially problematic for new iPhone customers. The goal of the current study was to determine how easy it was for conventional mobile phone users to text using the iPhone.

Participants Texted using Both Conventional Phones and iPhones
A total of 20 participants were brought in for one-on-one usability sessions with a moderator. All sent text messages at least 15 times per week. Ten of the participants owned a phone with a QWERTY keypad, and ten of the participants owned a phone with a numeric keypad. Those who owned a numeric keypad used the “multitap” method of entering text messages rather than predictive text. To multitap, a user must press a particular key on the numeric keypad multiple times to get the desired character to appear.

During each session, participants were required to use their own phones. In addition, they were provided with an iPhone for use during the study. None of the participants were iPhone owners, and all participants were compensated for their time.

Standardized Messages Were Provided for Texting
Every participant entered six messages using their own phone and six messages on the iPhone. In their sessions, participants were asked to copy 12 standard messages created for this study. Each message was between 104-106 characters in length (including spaces). Six of the messages each contained 8-10 instances of proper capitalization and punctuation, while the remaining six messages contained no capitalization or punctuation but had some abbreviations. Message configuration and phone order were counterbalanced across participants.

Participants Were Novice iPhone Users
We were aware that participants’ prior familiarity with their own phones meant that there would likely be a learning curve associated with text messaging on the iPhone. (None of the participants had used an iPhone prior to the study). Although participants were given one minute to familiarize themselves with the iPhone’s touch keyboard, their texting abilities on the iPhone were still at the novice level. Throughout the study, we did notice limited improvements in keyboard comfort as users progressed through the tasks on the iPhone. Overall, the findings in the study can be taken as a good representation of what iPhone text messaging is like for a customer who has just bought an iPhone and is using it for the first time.

“It’s important to consider the changes a person has to make when they switch to the iPhone,” said Gavin Lew, Managing Director at User Centric. “It should be easy for people to do common tasks, such as text messaging, using the iPhone’s less traditional touch interface.”

Texting on iPhone Took Twice as Long as Texting on QWERTY Phones
In general, participants took longer to enter text messages on the iPhone than on their own phone. Despite the keyboard similarities, QWERTY phone users took nearly twice as long to enter comparable messages on the iPhone compared to their own phone. On the other hand, multitappers did not experience a significant difference in the time it took them to type messages on the iPhone. (Multitap text entry usually takes about 2 times as long as QWERTY text entry). Participants also made more typing errors on the iPhone. This phenomenon was expected since users had much more experience with their own phones.

Detailed Observations of User Text Entry on the iPhone Ergonomic Issues
• Most participants felt that their fingertips were too large for the iPhone’s touch keyboard.
• Most QWERTY phone users initially used the iPhone by holding it with both hands and typing with their two thumbs. However, by the end of the session, most had decided that it was easier for them to use one index finger to type.
• Over half of the participants stated that they would have preferred the feel of an actual key to the iPhone’s touch keypad.
• Most participants noticed that there was no tactile feedback on the iPhone keypad.
• Some mentioned that the feel of the key on conventional phones helps them locate the desired key without having to focus on the actual keypad.

General Interface Issues
• Participants expressed a great deal of frustration with the sensitivity of the iPhone touch keypad.
• Participants made an average of 11 errors per message on the iPhone compared to an average of 3 errors per text message on their own phone. Although the error rate was alleviated somewhat by the iPhone’s self-correction feature, participants were still frustrated.
• In particular, participants struggled when they were trying to type using the Q & W keys or the O & P keys on the iPhone.
• 5 out of 20 participants asked if the iPhone came with a stylus. They indicated that they could be more accurate with the stylus rather than their fingers due to the sensitivity of the screen.
• One female participant tried to interact with the iPhone keypad using her fingernail and was unsuccessful.
• The space bar, return, and backspace keys presented issues for many participants because these keys were spaced so closely to each other.
• No one discovered the drag and lift feature of the keyboard, which reduces errors.
• Many participants said they could not see themselves attempting text entry on the iPhone in distracting conditions.
• Specifically, participants did not think they could text message on the iPhone safely while driving.

Predictive & Corrective Text Issues
• Only a few participants discovered and correctly learned to use the predictive and/or corrective text features on the iPhone. QWERTY phone users in particular had a tendency to backspace when they were correcting mistakes.
• Participants did not understand how the predictive / corrective text bubbles worked.
• 6 out of 20 participants tried to touch the bubble to get the word in the text bubble to appear.
• Three participants tried hitting the backspace key because they associated the ‘x’ on it with the ‘x’ in the bubble.
• It was especially frustrating for participants when they attempted to place the cursor in the middle of a word.
• None of the participants discovered the magnifying glass feature while text messaging.
• During a follow-up task that involved correcting a note in the iPhone’s Notes application, 6 out of 20 did discover the magnifying glass feature. However, not all participants realized that the feature helps place the cursor in addition to enlarging the text.

Real World Implications
Based on our study’s findings, it appears that QWERTY phone users are likely to suffer some initial decrease in efficiency when switching to the iPhone touch keyboard. However, multitap texters may see an eventual increase in text entry efficiency when switching to the iPhone.

Our study indicates that both QWERTY and multi-tap users are likely to have some level of initial frustration with the iPhone’s touch keyboard and corrective text features. Although our analysis suggests that both types will eventually adapt to the iPhone’s features, the learning curve for texting on iPhones will be steeper for QWERTY phone users than multi-tappers.

If you would like an excerpt of this study including graphs and pictures, please email:

About User Centric, Inc.
User Centric is a global consulting firm that focuses on improving user experience. We apply our expertise to projects involving handhelds, Web sites, software, medical devices, print, packaging, and telephony services. Experience, quality, value, global reach and outstanding client services set us apart. Fortune 500 companies and other organizations trust us to make their products and services better. Client satisfaction is our #1 measure of success: 95% of our revenue comes from repeat business. Learn more about us at


This is so interesting that we decided to conduct a similar study of our own!

MacDailyNews took a total of 20 participants who had watched golf on TV, but never played the game. 10 of the participants had played field hockey. The other 10 had played ice hockey. Participants were give a bag of clubs, many balls, and were driven out to the first tee and told to begin play.

We recorded these detailed observations:
• Most participants felt either that the ball was too small or the clubs were too long to hit accurate shots.
• Most felt it was easier to watch golf on TV than to actually play the game.
• Most participants noticed that the sand hindered their shots.
• Most ice hockey players initially held the club like an ice hockey stick.
• All ice hockey players believed playing ice hockey to be easier than playing golf.
• Most field hockey players intitally held the club like a field hockey stick.
• All field hockey players believed playing field hockey to be easier than playing golf.
• Participants made an average of 11 strokes per hole higher than actual golfers (18 handicap).
• In particular, participants struggled with driving, approach shots, chipping, putting, sand shots, and general etiquette.
• One female field hockey participant tried to jump her golf cart over a stream, but was unsuccessful.
• 5 out of 20 participants asked if the golf tees could be used for every shot.
• Participants expressed a great deal of frustration with the game of golf.

Based on our study’s findings, it appears that non-golfers are likely to eventually increase their level of play with practice, hence actually becoming golfers.

Our study indicates that people who have never played golf are likely to have some level of initial frustration with the game. Although our analysis suggests that both types will eventually adapt to the game with practice, the learning curve for golf will be slightly steeper for field hockey players than for ice hockey players based mainly on that unfortunate golf cart and stream episode.

Learning to use Apple’s iPhone expertly is immeasurably easier than learning how to play golf at its most basic.


  1. MDN. Thank you for doing that “similar study” Loved it. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”grin” style=”border:0;” />

    Anal-yst Anal people trying to act like they know something. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”grin” style=”border:0;” />


  2. MDN take:
    “• One female participant tried to jump her golf cart over a stream, but was unsuccessful.”

    OK, it’s probably not PC, but ROFLMAO!! As Triump used to say, I keed, I keed…

    MW: “drive”!!!

  3. Oh puh-leeze. I used a Treo for over 3 years, and it took me just over a week to be faster using my iPhone’s text entry than I ever was on my Treo. I tried using a friend’s treo recently to type an email and it was downright painful. Silly article.

    And MDN, nice study you did yourselves. You might want to add in a study of people who’ve used a broom before too. I’m sure they will have frustration switching to using a golf club too ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” />

  4. One minute of practice w2ith a new interface then into the frying pan? What would the results have been had they been allowed 30 minutes of practice with the iPhone?

    My daughter has been texting on her RAZR for nearly two years. I can’t keep up with her at all on my iPhone (had it since June 29). Gee, I wonder why that is?

    This “test” was too poorly constructed to be of value.

  5. “• Many participants said they could not see themselves attempting text entry on the iPhone in distracting conditions.
    • Specifically, participants did not think they could text message on the iPhone safely while driving.”

    You shouldn’t be texting while driving any way.

  6. “Specifically, participants did not think they could text message on the iPhone safely while driving.”
    God, I hope not! There are enough people yapping on cell phones and weaving back and forth across the lanes on the interstates. Texting would be an unbelievable hazard.

  7. Another dumbfuk corporate shill MDN take. Pathetic. Seriously, are you idiots (MDN) at least on Apple’s payroll, or do you toss Apple’s salad for free?

    The iPhone has some great features, and some lousy ones–particularly text entry. The touch screen is an upgrade over multitapping, but crap compared qwerty keyboards. The iPhone is a trade off–ditching the qwerty keyboard gives you most of the front surface to use as a screen, and flexibility for adjusting the user interface application by application, but text entry is slow, error prone, frustrating, and the magnifying glass is the most unintuitive interface Apple’s had since monitor ROM.

    Landscape text entry across all applications has to be one of the most-needed features for the next iPhone software update–a well designed landscape keyboard would go a long way to addressing the issue, although the inability to touch type will always be a problem. (I sure as hell don’t want someone texting while driving, but there are other times I’d like to be able to text message without having to stare religously at the screen.)

  8. Another thought — compare this fact (iPhone users are not instant experts) to the fact that analysts are instant experts on whatever they study. Someone should do a long-term study on accurately predicting the future by comparing psychics, televangelists, and analysts. It would be fun to see who got closest to the truth.

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