Annual LG Texting Championship Ignores the Touchscreen

The nation's fastest texters will compete tonight for fame and $50,000.

August 08, 2012, 1:07 PM

Aug. 8, 2012 — -- While the nation's best athletes are in London for the 2012 Olympics, eleven of the nation's best texters are in New York for the sixth annual LG U.S. National Texting Championship. The competition tests speed and accuracy and the winner will take home $50,000.

LG said there will be a number of rounds in this year's competition, including a text-backwards round (cleverly called the The Txet sdrawkcab round) and a text-in-the-dark round in which contestants are blindfolded.

There's one striking thing about the competition: the competitors will be pounding away on physical keyboards, not on touchscreens. All the competitors have been provided with an LG Optimus Zip, an Android phone with a slide-out physical keyboard. The phone has a touchscreen too.

"Back in 2007 when we started [the competition], smartphones as a category wasn't really prevalent, but the target consumer that LG was interested in was these texters," LG's Director of Trade and Experiential Marketing, Carl Brown, told ABC News. "We built our brand on those QWERTY keyboard devices."

Since 2007, though, that category of messaging phones has been replaced for the most part with all-touchscreen smartphones, including Apple's iPhone and various Android handsets. Fewer and fewer smartphones these days are being made with physical keyboards.

Take Verizon as an example. The carrier carries close to 50 touchscreen smartphones. It has only six phones with physical QWERTY keyboards. Even RIM has said its next phone, based on its new BlackBerry 10 operating system, will not have a hardware keyboard, a staple of many of the BlackBerry brand.

LG added a touchscreen round to last year's competition but pulled it this year. "During last year's competition, we integrated a touch screen challenge understanding many are in use today," Brown said. "However, we found contestants had trouble completing the phrases accurately during that round. This year, for consistency and accuracy purposes, we decided to keep with physical QWERTY keyboards."

Austin Wierschke, the defending champion of the competition, said he's happy that the LG Optimus Zip with a physical keyboard is what he gets to use.

"It would take a lot longer to get adjusted to a phone with just a touchscreen and be a lot tougher to pull it off. It works to my advantage that they use keyboarded phones," Weirschke told ABC News.

Most are faster typists with physical keyboards, Wierschke said, and suggested that LG likely continues to go with the keyboard phones for that reason. "That's why they stick with these phones; they can show off how fast we really are."

But some would argue that's not exactly the case anymore as virtual keyboards get more intelligent.

"A lot of people who are into these tactile devices like the benefits of feeling the keys, but now you can use intelligent software with touchscreen keyboards that can allow you to type even faster," Joe Braidwood, the CMO of Swiftkey, told ABC News. Swiftkey is a keyboard app for Android smartphones.

Braidwood said he thinks the competition is outdated and joked that "it's like forcing people to ride push scooters when they could have motor bikes. You can't have a modern day race with an old school device." In 2012, a British woman broke the Guinness World Record for fastest text message ever using Swype, keyboard software similar to Swiftkey. Currently the Guinness World Records has two records for the fastest text message ever sent -- one for a message sent on a touchscreen and one sent on a phone with a physical keyboard.

But while LG says that it will "remain open to considering various options going forward," it isn't letting the lack of a touchscreen round diminish the competition, which is being held tonight in Times Square for everyone to see.

"The thing that surprised us the most is how these contestants really look at texting as a sport. They train for it, they recruit texting buddies," Brown said. Turns out texting is more like the Olympic games than we thought.

Update: Wierschke won for the second year in a row. Ironically, he tweeted about his accomplishment using an iPhone.

In response to ABC News' question about the iPhone Wierschke responded by saying, "I am a big techie. I've used several different phones, but I've found that for the best accuracy and speed, I use an LG device like my LG Doubleplay or the LG Optimus Zip."

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