Bonnie Cha

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Nuance’s Swype Android Keyboard Finally Hits Google Play

Looking to getting its product into the hands of more people, Nuance Communications announced today that its Swype virtual keyboard for Android will be available from the Google Play store starting Wednesday. The introductory price is 99 cents, and there’s also a free 30-day trial version.

Swype, which first debuted on the Windows Mobile-based Samsung Omnia II back in 2009, allows users to type words by dragging their finger from letter to letter in one continuous motion.

Till now, Swype was only available preinstalled on select smartphones, or to users who signed up to be part of the beta program.

Now, any Android smartphone or tablet owner can get it, and the latest version of Swype accommodates all types of users, from swipers to traditional typists and even those who want to dictate text.

Swype already offered next-word prediction based on context, but now it includes new features to make the keyboard smarter and more accurate. A Smart Editor function suggests edits based on the entire sentence.

There’s also an opt-in Living Language cloud service, which Nuance has been testing since October, that automatically updates the keyboard’s dictionary on a daily basis with trending words and phrases. It even supports more than 20 dialects.

During a preview meeting with AllThingsD this week, Aaron Sheedy, vice president of mobile product at Nuance, gave the example of adding “Tsarnaev” to the dictionary after last week’s tragic Boston Marathon bombings. Sheedy said these “hot words” are determined by crawling websites and looking at terms being used by its Living Language subscribers.

The service also backs up and syncs your personal dictionary, so it doesn’t have to relearn words and phrases even if you switch devices.

For users who prefer to peck at the keys, a function called Smart Touch studies how one’s fingers are interacting with the screen to learn his or her typing habits. If it sees that someone is tapping between the A and S keys and usually wants S, Swype will automatically adapt so that S is selected each time (when it makes sense).

Swype also offers a dedicated Dragon dictation button for those times when it’s more convenient to dictate a message. In order to use this, however, you need to have Nuance’s Dragon Mobile Assistant app.

Nuance, which is known for its Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software, acquired Swype in October 2011 for $102.5 million, and has been making updates to the keyboard app throughout. The company said that it finally decided to release Swype on Google Play after “incredible consumer demand” from the users of its beta program.

But of course, getting Swype in front of more people will also help it take on its main competitor, SwiftKey, which currently sits atop the paid apps list on Google Play.

In February, SwiftKey released a version of its keyboard that incorporated swipe gesture support similar to Swype’s. But Sheedy believes Swype’s multi-modality, accuracy and support for more languages will help set it apart from the competition.

It will be interesting to see where the two keyboards are at when Nuance CEO Paul Ricci hits the stage at the 11th D: All Things Digital conference in late May.

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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google