The Disadvantages of Virtual Keyboards

By Mike Sweeney

Virtual keyboards are becoming more prevalent with the growth of smartphones, tablets, and touchscreen laptops and desktops. While offering many benefits, virtual keyboards do pose some disadvantages compared to physical keyboards. Your typing speed and accuracy may be affected, the screens have a tendency to get fingerprint smudges and dirt, and ergonomic issues can be a problem based on how you use it.

Keyboard Feel

The keys on a virtual keyboard are activated with a touch sensor instead of physically pushing down a key as you would on a physical keyboard. This can take some getting used to since many people type based on the feel of the concave keys of the physical keyboard. Without the feel of the keys, some users find it is easy to inadvertently touch a wrong key on a virtual keyboard, slowing you down and possibly even creating inaccurate or confusing documents if the mistakes are not caught in advance of publishing.

Keyboard Speed and Character Support

Your typing speed will likely be negatively impacted on a virtual keyboard. Using experienced virtual keyboard users in a test, researchers at Northern Illinois University found that the average typing speed on the touchscreen was 25 words per minute, while on a standard desktop and laptop keyboard, it was 63 words per minute, a dramatic difference in speed and time spent on the keyboard. Also, the virtual keyboard may not include all the keys you have become accustomed to on your physical keyboard, affecting your productivity and increasing your learning curve.

Screen Use

When using the virtual keyboard, the amount of screen space left to view and proofread your document is minimal, requiring you to scroll up or down to see the document in its entirety. This constant scrolling and lack of screen space will slow your typing and possibly affect your train-of-thought. Additionally, because typing on a virtual keyboard requires frequent contact with the screen, the likelihood of smudges and dirt on the screen is high. With repetitive use, you'll need to frequently wipe the screen clean to continue working.


Depending on the size of the virtual keyboard and device, you may need to look straight down at the device, leading to neck fatigue and soreness. The placement of the wrists and fingers will also be different compared to a standard keyboard, possibly creating discomfort with prolonged use over time. Also, recent studies have shown that virtual keyboard use can lead to shoulder stiffness or pain due to the way a user's fingers need to hover above the keys to avoid accidentally activating a key -- keeping the fingers elevated impacts the shoulder muscles.