From Typing To Gliding And Back Again: SwiftKey Touchscreen Keyboard Maker Adds Swype-Style Input, Calls It SwiftKey Flow

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It’s a tale of two increasingly similar touchscreen keyboards: SwiftKey’s latest move to counter Nuance-owned rival Swype is to adopt a Swype-style input method — allowing users to drag their fingers over the screen to form words, rather than needing to tap out individual letters. SwiftKey is calling its new feature SwiftKey Flow and talks about fingers “gliding” over the screen (well it can’t very well say ‘swyping’).

Back in June SwiftKey launched version 3.0 of its software, just after Swype announced a major update in which it added a traditional key-tapping interface — a la SwiftKey — plus a slew of other features, including speech-to-text dictation using Nuance’s Dragon Go system.

If you want to get a sense of exactly how similar the two finger-sliding systems are, here are two respective promo videos

SwiftKey says its new Flow system incorporates its existing word prediction engine — which analyses users’ writing styles (looking at SMSes, emails and social media communications — as, indeed, does Swype) to tailor corrections and next-word predictions — to make typing even faster. The system correctly predicts around a third (30 percent) of next-words before any characters are entered, and 84 percent of next words after two characters have been entered, says SwiftKey.

“We built SwiftKey Flow from the ground up using a completely new approach that harnesses the power of our powerful prediction engine. It’s our technology and we’ve patented it,” the company tells TechCrunch. “There’s nothing else out there that is able to predict, with such personalized accuracy, what you want to type from the moment your finger starts gliding on the screen. This is thanks to our use of natural language processing and machine learning through each and every innovation we create.”

Commenting on the launch of Flow, SwiftKey CEO Jon Reynolds added in a statement: “We know our users have different tastes and habits — this way they’ll get to choose what style of writing suits them best without compromising the power of the predictions.”

SwiftKey is a U.K. startup, founded back in 2008. It’s received around 10 million downloads to date, and employs more than 70 people. Its software is available in 44 languages currently.

Swype has also added the ability for mobile users to download its keyboard to compatible devices — but its largest market is from being pre-loaded on a raft of (mostly) Android devices (SwiftKey also sells its software to OEMs). Earlier this year Swype said it expects its text input technology to be preloaded on more than 100 million devices globally by the end of this year.

SwiftKey said it believes there is room in the market for two such similar touchscreen keyboards. “There have been several continuous input keyboards in the past that have been supported by the market, so of course there is scope for further innovation, especially when you consider that we sell not just to OEMs, but also directly to consumers,” the company says.

It also denies it’s taking its cues from Swype. “On inspiration [for SwiftKey Flow] the approach we’ve taken has been inspired by nothing other than our heritage as an NLP [natural language processing] and machine learning language innovation business. This is something that was defined through our CTO’s research at Cambridge and built upon ever since we were founded in 2008. There’s some pretty good evidence that our competition has sought more inspiration from us in this regard over the last four years than anything else.”