Ina Fried

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SwiftKey X Adds Yet Another Virtual Keyboard Option for Android

Windows Phone 7 and iPhone owners have just one option when it comes to software keyboards — use the virtual keyboard that is built into the operating system.

Android device owners, meanwhile, have a growing array of choices, each with its own take on just what will make text entry easiest. Swype, which just closed another round of funding, focuses on tracing each word rather than pecking letter by letter. Nuance offers several options with its Flex T9 product, which lets users speak, trace, handwrite or type. The latest entry is SwiftKey X, from England’s TouchType Inc., a 35-person start-up.

What makes SwiftKey unique is its effort to personalize itself to the user. Like a growing number of virtual keyboards, SwiftKey can not only predict, midword, what a person is trying to spell, but also guess what word might come next. It learns the words you use by scanning various sources, such as your Gmail, Facebook and Twitter feeds, as well as text messages and other data entered on the phone itself.

“It now can personalize to the way you speak,” Chief Marketing Officer Joe Braidwood said in an interview.

SwiftKey, which started in beta testing a year ago, can also handle more than one language at once, as long as a user selects the various languages they might be planning to type. For example, start typing in French and SwiftKey will select a word en français as the next likely word. Return to English and the suggestions return to English as well. Braidwood said the multilingual crowd represents the most passionate of SwiftKey’s early users.

“For them that really solves a problem,” he said.

The app can also build a custom heat map, figuring out not just how accurate or sloppy one’s text entry is, but also just where users tend to press their fingers.

SwiftKey X comes in tablet and phone versions, both of which are paid apps. The phone version will sell for $3.99, with the tablet version slated to cost $4.99. To celebrate the launch, the company plans to offer each for $1.99 for a bit.

Longer term, SwiftKey faces the same challenge as much of the software keyboard business — getting preinstalled on devices — an area where Nuance and Swype are way ahead. So far, SwiftKey’s only announced bundling deal is with INQ Mobile, on its Facebook-centric Cloud line.

Braidwood said the company actually tried to go straight to device makers, back when it was just a research project at Cambridge University, but it turned out that the phone makers wanted more support than the small firm could give. Instead, it released its code direct to users a year ago, to get feedback and expand. Various versions of SwiftKey have since gotten 1.5 million downloads, including about 300,000 in paid sales, since the full first version of the product was completed last September.

“It was beautifully timed with Android’s growth,” he said of the software’s release.


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