Appolicious powers Verizon Educational Tools

SwiftKey Keyboard Android app does thumb things right

by Tim McLain

After a few days of sending texts, surfing the web, and entering contacts, you might be wondering: "Is this really the best on-screen keyboard available for my new Android phone?" After giving SwiftKey Keyboard a go for a few days, I can give you a firm answer: Yes, as long as you're careful.

After installing, the app quickly gets to work helping you teach your phone to use SwiftKey as the default keyboard, installs your preferred language module (there are many to choose from, even in the free version), and scans your SMS message archive to tailor word- and sentence-input predictions to your writing style.

Hold on. "Predictions?" That's right. The secret sauce to the many choices of alternate keyboards available in the Android market is predicting what words you're typing as you're inputting text. After entering just two or three letters, the keyboards go to work guessing what you might be typing.This key feature is also every keyboard's worst enemy if you're not careful.

Here's why. No matter how well the app does at guessing your words, you must remember to look up and see what the prediction engine is spitting out. Once it nails a word, you have to touch it to add it to your input box.

If you don't, you'll probably insert a word that you hadn't intended. Even after owning my Droid for several months, some of my Twitter and Facebook updates are populated with mistakes, entirely because of forgetting to select the correct word I was attempting to input.

That said, SwiftKey generally does an excellent job in this department. Especially after using the app both before and after scanning my text messages to increase its predictive powers, the false-positive rate went down noticeably.

Plus (and this is where things get brilliant), if you tend to use the same sentences or statements time and again, the app will learn and offer up the next word in sequence automatically. Only SwiftKey offers this technology.

So if you've typed "Appolicious is the best app-discovery site on the web" a few times, the next time you input "Appolicious is the" you'll notice the word "best" pops up as one of the next word guesses. Next will be "app," then "discovery," and so on. In no time at all, you've typed the same statement without having to go letter by letter. Scary-cool.

"We've analyzed over 50 billion words in nine major languages to build the models that drive our prediction engine," said Ben Medlock, TouchType's chief technical officer. "SwiftKey is the first text-entry app on the market to harness the incredible power of statistical language processing. It takes predictive text to a whole new level, resulting in an unparalleled user experience." Ben, you and your team nailed it.

Beyond this feature, the keyboard interface is a massive upgrade from the stock keyboard in term of key size and layout. Mr. Fat Fingers here (my thumbs are practically clubs) is able to hit the proper letter much more often. Add in the standard mic icon to start voice input, and the ability to long-hold on special characters to access the alternate symbols, and you've got yourself a worthy replacement for your stock onscreen keyboard.

Just be sure to give the keyboard a week or two to learn your writing style and frequently used sentences, and don't be afraid to access the Settings to tweak the app to your preferences.It's all time well spent to take your Droid from good to great.