Write this Down: Handwriting Trumps Typing on Rugged Tablets

As I mentioned last week, people argue that tablet PCs aren’t amenable to getting “real work” done. Motley Fool just claimed in a September 17 article that “… tablets aren't great productivity devices.”

“Tablets are great for the consumption of content, but they fall well short of laptops when it comes to creating that content,” they asserted a breath later. I strongly disagree, and so does the data.

I have actually had many conversations with customers, partners and mobile industry experts about whether or not typing is really the superior data entry method to handwriting in field service sectors. After all, we’ve spent billions of dollars as a global entity to move as far away from pen and paper data processes and towards the more practical capture and storage abilities of the PC, including mobile PCs. So my colleagues and I devised a series of tests to see which mobile data entry method was faster for the “Walking & Working” Content Creator demographic: handwriting or typing.

Our findings?

  • The on-screen touch keyboard produces an appalling 14 recognized wpm (Band: 10-24 wpm)
  • Swype-style on-screen keyboards aren’t much better at 19 recognized wpm (Band: 10-29 wpm)
  • Traditional keyboard data entry only captured 24 recognized wpm average (Band: 20-27 wpm)


  • Tablet PCs with handwriting recognition capabilities deliver around a much faster 33 recognized wpm data entry speed (Band: 24-35)
  • Handwriting on paper is still fastest at 44 wpm on average (Ban: 27-55 wpm)

So if paper isn’t possible (and it isn’t in today’s most industrious and most rugged sectors), a rugged tablet with handwriting recognition software should be the preferred mobile PC platform.

Tablet Handwriting Better than Touch Keyboard

Tablets that mean business will have touchscreen technology and active digitizer pens that allow the “walking and working” to create content in real-time via handwritten entries, which are immediately converted into typed text for use within software, database storage, etc. Windows-based tablets are especially high performing, and rugged tablets will let you capture and protect that data whether the sun is shining, the rain is pouring, the air is dusty or you have a tendency to drop your device.

As long as you also have the right apps in place to support each workflow, you’ll immediately empower workers (that actually have to work for a living) with a better, faster way to do their jobs – even when they’re on their feet. Of course, personal preference may indeed trump productivity potential when choosing a mobile device. And, depending on your job, a keyboard may be necessary to see an assignment through to completion.

But, the key takeaway here is that the rise of mobile computers – or any digital device with a typing mechanism – does not mean that we can dump those writing skills we spent over a decade mastering. And these study findings don’t mean that keyboards don’t have their place in field service environments. It just means that we as mobile computing experts need to carefully consult, advise, recommend and help you procure tablet PCs that maximize your mobile workers’ motor skills in ways that benefit the specific workflow of each workflow group.

As the data clearly shows, and my colleague Bob Ashenbrenner’s recently reminded us: The PC is the preferred device for real work, and today’s mobile tablets are PCs that can do everything a laptop or desktop PC can do.

Personally, I think they can do more. Today’s tough tablets also serve as a more reliable, more secure and more hardened form of “paper” upon which to write down our most valuable thoughts and our businesses’ most critical data. When was the last time you “wrote” on your desktop or laptop?

See the Data for Handwriting Performance