back to article Meet the stealthiest UK startup's app Swiftkey - and its psychic* keyboard

If ever there was a company that found itself in the right place at the right time, it's TouchType - the team behind SwiftKey. The firm is one of Britain's most successful tech startups: it says its intellectual property is used in 100 million phones and that its SwiftKey software was last year's best-selling program in the …

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  1. Scott 53

    Latin audience?

    I would have thought this would be concentrated in the Vatican rather than the US.

    Faciam me tunica mea

  2. HipposRule
    Unhappy

    French

    doesn't work for me and the language pack won't download...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: French

      Why are you whining on here - tell the apps developers!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Coffee/keyboard

    Hope it works then...

    Just gone from a resistive touchscreen to a capacitive and hate the change. While one is more responsive, the other seemed more accurate. I miss the accuracy. :(

    Most touch devices are annoying. I would see this kind of tech as trying to solve a problem created by moving to touch, instead of trying to remove the problem all together. Hopefully new interactivity such as LeapMotion will make input more accurate again.

    (Esc, because the keyboard is best for typing. ;) )

    1. Steve Evans

      Re: Hope it works then...

      I know what you mean.

      Whilst modern smartphones have far more power than my old capacitive screened mobile, I do miss the ability to accurate tap with a fingernail. With a capacitive you can't, you have to use the huge squidgy end of your finger, which immediately obstructs the view of whatever it is you are trying to press!

  4. Chris Miller

    Looks very promising, but my concern is: does it need a fast data connection? In other words, will it work in London and some other favoured locations, but not at home or (consistently) on the train?

    1. Timmay
      Facepalm

      It doesn't need a data connection at all, other than to initially download the thing.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Is this the horrible future Apple and Google have left us in? Where we don't believe something as simple as a keyboard is at all possible without an internet connection?

    2. Chris Miller

      I was thinking more of the predictive text capabilities - I don't imagine it downloads a dictionary of all the world's languages onto my phone, so must rely on a database somewhere in the 'cloud'. Without these capabilities, I can't believe its recognition of my vague swirls over the keyboard is going to be very accurate.

      1. David Simpson 1
        FAIL

        Silly assumption, it downloads the language you choose to use depending on your location and learns phrases and words from your SMS, emails, Facebook and Twitter.

        Why on earth would that be hard ?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Why would it need a dictionary of all the world's languages? It just needs the common words of whatever languages you routinely use, plus whatever non-standard words you use. To achieve this, when you install it, it lets you select languages to download (English (UK) and nothing else results in an app ~30MB in size, a piffling amount), and it then goes one step further and asks you for access to your facebook/email/whatever else to look at your past typing history.

        That's the main reason it appears to be so psychic. Instead of having to train itself over time with use, as its competitors do (or mostly don't), most users give it access to an enormous training set. The magic of Bayes's theorem means that the set itself doesn't actually have to be stored, only the resulting word->word probability values, which can be updated on the fly. Given a large enough training set to start with, this results in a very fast, very accurate predictor of what you're going to type next, without an enormous storage footprint.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          AC

          Are you from SwiftKey?

        2. nora

          Vocab does not cost a lot of storage, but context does.

          tree-based ngram context storage costs 8-20 bytes per ngram.

          also, sizeof the dictionary/context model does not equal to the size in memory.

    3. nora

      I don't understand, it is a keyboard, you don't need data connection. except when you first download it.

  5. auburnman

    Good time for a retraction...

    I slagged off Swiftkey last time it was discussed on here... Something must have gone wrong the first time I installed it because I recently tried it again and I couldn't have been more wrong to dismiss it. Psychic is the word - it is so much better than anything else I've tried. Definitely worth a couple of quid.

    1. BlueGreen
      Go

      Re: Good time for a retraction...

      mate gave a demo of this in the pub. It was bloody amazing, slick as anything.

    2. censored

      Re: Good time for a retraction...

      Agreed. I really didn't get along with SwiftKey 3. I don't know why, but I uninstalled.

      This, however, is absolutely fantastic.

      1. Brian Morrison
        Thumb Up

        Re: Good time for a retraction...

        The really excellent thing about Swiftkey 4 is that the 'flow' swiping and the tap tap tap typing both work together seamlessly so you can switch between them in mid sentence or even mid word in some cases.

        I started using the beta a few weeks ago having been using Swiftkey since it first came out, then after a couple of days tried the flow method and haven't looked back. For some reason I couldn't get on with Swype, but this is just magic.

  6. jake Silver badge

    Not typing. Fondling.

    How many words per minute at a sustained rate? Inquiring minds & all that ...

    1. auburnman
      Pint

      Re: Not typing. Fondling.

      Depends how long you've used it, it seems to learn your commonly used words & phrases quite quickly.

      "Are you coming out for a pint tonight?" can be done in nanoseconds.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not typing. Fondling.

        If its learnt that phrase so quickly, I suggest you look at your drinking habits!

        1. Brian Morrison

          Re: Not typing. Fondling.

          It knows it after just one entry, you can retype it by simply starting the first word and then tapping the space bar or centre suggestion repeatedly until it's complete.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Blackberry

    I would be surprised if Blackberry wasn't using a variation of it. The prediction is sometimes almost uncanny.

  8. Timmay
    Meh

    Nexus 7

    I'm a huge fan of SwiftKey - have updated it on my GS3, but it doesn't seem compatible with my Nexus 7 anymore, so won't update...?

    1. John Wilson

      Re: Nexus 7

      I'm seeing the same thing. Have SwiftKey working fine on my HTC One X, but the update to the tablet version on my Nexus 7 is showing as 'incompatible with this device'. Given that the Nexus is practically a reference platform, seems an odd oversight.

      1. thesykes

        Re: Nexus 7

        Strange... downloaded, installed & running on my Nexus 7 on 4.2.2

        In fact, 4 different versions are available through the Play Store on the Nexus, phone & tablet versions of trial and full apps.

    2. Afflicted.John

      Re: Nexus 7

      You will need the tablet version most likely.

      1. shade82000

        Re: Nexus 7

        I have whatever software comes with the Resurrection Remix ROM on my S2, but it seems to do the same swipey thing and it's very good for a small screen.

        I tried some swipey keyboard on my Nexus 7 and it was far too energetic because of the screen size.

        For two handed typing on larger screens, I can't recommend Hacker Keyboard enough, especially when using the tablet for RDP as the keyboard layout is the same as a standard keyboard and very quick to type on.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nexus 7

      If you check their twitter feed, there were issues earlier today with some devices. I think they are fixed now, but check twitter, they keep you informed.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is very good.

    But I wish there was a toggle on the keyboard to temporarily turn it into a dumb keyboard because it can be a little stubborn at times when trying to mix an unknown word with punctuation.

    1. Alan Edwards
      Thumb Up

      Re: It is very good.

      Give TouchPal a go, there's a prediction on/off switch on the space bar, just swipe left or right on it.

      I tried Curve (TouchPal's equivalent of Flow), couldn't get into it...

    2. censored

      Re: It is very good.

      Switching to plain old tapping doesn't seem to be an issue for me.

  10. Silverburn
    Coat

    Hmmm

    My conversations must be very strange - it never anticipates anything like what I wanted to say.

    Then again, this might explain why I never get invited to parties...

    What - time for me to leave already? Ok...

    1. h3

      Re: Hmmm

      I doubt your conversations are particularly strange. More likely they just have some substance. Apps like this (With only 3 options regardless of width unless that has changed) are good for people who say lots with no content whatsoever.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Hmmm

        LOL

  11. Da Weezil
    Thumb Up

    i said a while ago they needed to combine swype with this to have a great app... seems that they heard me :) the predictive side of this is just great... I hope the flow-type works as well. time to upgrade my app and swap over the default from swype and give it a try

    1. Lord Voldemortgage

      I would have been with you on that but for me this still needs some work - unlike Swype or FlexT9 it's not very good on words with doubled letters or where swiping through letters gives an alternative word - it's always gives me "point" when I mean "pint" making it almost completely useless for the normal sort of messages I send.

      Things have been improving through the betas though so it is well worth trying the final version to see how you get on.

      1. censored

        Should learn that you use pint a lot more than point, though?

  12. C 18
    Thumb Up

    I love when things I think we really ought to have invented become available.

    I remember when I first laid hands on a Nokia 3210, back in '99, and as was the fashion those days, took it apart (only by prizing off the plastic covers and removing the battery) to see what was inside.

    My immediate reaction then was to think that at that point the size of the phone was now dictated purely by the need to have a reasonably sized keyboard and display for the user. Whereas prior to that the majority of phones would have had their dimensions dictated by the amount of space necessary to fit everything inside and the humongous battery.

    Nearly a decade and a half later and we still build phones that are based on the idea that we need a full keyboard to enter text with one, two if you're less patient, thumbs. Guys like these will change that, maybe not these particular fellows. Some sort of natural language processing combined with predictive algorithms should make it possible to speed up the input rates possible by use of a single or small number of digits.

    Combined with some sort of discreet projection device to display images directly on to the retina and soon the bricks that we carry about in our pockets will become practically invisible to others.

    As for the input device itself; transparent, conductive surfaces on the fingers, easily applied, connected to a base station wristband or whatever seems appropriate.

    Hmm, must return to the present moment now...

    >click!<

    1. Christoph

      They should use the Microwriter chorded keyboard.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        >They should use the Microwriter chorded keyboard.

        This lad has already made a prototype chorded typing case for a mobile phone. Well done him!

        http://srimech.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/chorded-keyboard-for-mobile-phones.html

    2. Keith 20
      Holmes

      invent a wheel (or something)

      There was an accessibility keyboard feature ages back for linux, where you kind of flew through to the next most likely letter.

      Based on this a wheel, which predicts likely next letters (and so words) could be made to be smaller than a keyboard gui and get rid of the size restriction ....tiny small round phones anyone ?!

    3. C 18
      Black Helicopters

      In response to my own post

      Google are watching...

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1uyQZNg2vE

  13. CompuGuide
    Facepalm

    WTF?! "This App is not compatible with Nexus 7

    I've been using Swiftkey 3 Tablet for ages on my Nexus 7. Now it seems that it's no longer available in the Play store for this tablet?

    What Gives?

    1. MikeyD85

      Re: WTF?! "This App is not compatible with Nexus 7

      Just updated to 4.2.2 by chance?

      The only problem with Nexus devices is that having the latest version of Android often breaks your apps.

    2. Timmay

      Re: WTF?! "This App is not compatible with Nexus 7

      Same here - I suspect (hope) it's some kind of oversight, and I'm sure it'll be asking to upgrade soon enough.

    3. ContentsMayVary

      Re: WTF?! "This App is not compatible with Nexus 7

      WTF indeed! And you can't post a review stating "Won't work on Nexus 7" unless you've actually installed it... While I can see the reasoning behind that limitation on reviewing uninstallable software, it's a bit annoying.

      1. Afflicted.John

        Re: WTF?! "This App is not compatible with Nexus 7

        Swiftkey do have a habit of changing device compatibility. The original Galaxy Note would work with SwiftKey tablet for example, but following a SwiftKey 3 update the split keyboard would not work and I had to resort to using the common phone variety. Try the other version to see.

    4. Jon Green
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: WTF?! "This App is not compatible with Nexus 7

      Very disappointing - I just looked on the Play Store, looking to update my SK3, and found the same thing. It's not like 4.2.2 happened suddenly, without warning. I don't know how TouchType could have missed this. They're now not on the radar for any N7 user with the latest firmware; that's a decent chunk of market gone.

      Still, SK3 still seems to work, for those of us who already have it.

      Icon: "You owe me a new keyboard." Soon would be nice.

  14. Thecowking

    Love Swiftkey

    It was the very first app I ever bought on Android and I use it every day.

    It's extremely good, though mildly prudish and after two years or so of using it, I can't go back.

    Just installed the upgrade and it's uncanny.

    I'll stop gushing now.

    1. Jason Hindle Silver badge

      Re: Love Swiftkey

      Same here. I'm typing with it now. Only problem is, I need to remember to proof read what I write. Sometimes SwiftKey tries to be too clever!

    2. Alain

      Re: Love Swiftkey

      So do I. With proper training, it feels like the bloody program reads in your mind. Almost scary.

      My only gripe is about the two separate versions: phone and tablet. I'm sure there's no good technical reason for this. The same program could certainly handle both. It's more like a marketing trick to force people who have both a phone and a tablet to buy two licences.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Will buy it

    Currently on the trial version and have to say its so much better than the keyboard my S3 came with. Worth 2 quid!

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    INteresting that something so *apparently* simple is still capable of improvement.

    But for a phone application isn't voice recognition the obvious way to go?

    Thumbs up for a UK company that seems to have just quietly gotten on with business.

    1. C 18
      Black Helicopters

      Re: INteresting that something so *apparently* simple is still capable of improvement.

      Voice recognition is the obvious but not so easy way to go.

      I'm mystified as to why voice recognition hasn't become the de facto standard. I hear a lot of faffing about by the men in white coats about voice being very difficult to interpret into words, but I'm pretty sure if money wasn't involved we'd have voice recognition systems far superior to the nonsense we have been supplied with so far.

      End message.

      Now, where's my -- hey, I said END MESSAGE.

      WTF? No, I do not want to you to massage my arse, END MESSAGE!

      Oh for crying out loud, I'll have to get my finger out...

      >click!<

      1. Harry Kiri

        Re: INteresting that something so *apparently* simple is still capable of improvement.

        Nope, voice recognition is hard because most people speak like idiots, slur words, um ah, and there is a lot of intuited context about the words such as taking the meaning from 'I scream', 'Ice cream' or 'Eyes cream'.

        People think voice is easy as even the stupidest person can use voice. The reason it works is because you have a brain doing an immense amount of tricky processing getting it to work. Thats why voice, for the foreseeable future, will only ever have marginal improvement. No-one's come up with new tech in voice recognition for 20+ years, just improved CPUs mean they handle the search space better.

        Direct text is a lot easier but still really difficult and it sounds like these guys have done a cracking job.

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: INteresting that something so *apparently* simple is still capable of improvement.

          "People think voice is easy as even the stupidest person can use voice. The reason it works is because you have a brain doing an immense amount of tricky processing getting it to work."

          For an estimate of just how much processing is involved, consider the fate of the novice language student who can understand the teacher (talking slowly and deliberately) but is flummoxed when confronted with a native speaker. Also consider that most experts reckon it actually becomes harder to learn a second language if you leave it too late because most of that tricky processing is actually burned into hardware and if you wait until your teens or later then this option isn't available to you.

          And, as you point out, that's just the easy problem of parsing the stream of sound. Actually understanding enough context to resolve ambiguities is Hard(tm).

    2. Norman Hartnell

      Re: INteresting that something so *apparently* simple is still capable of improvement.

      Do you really want to be stuck in a crowded place hearing everyone's banal texts out loud?

      1. Alan Edwards
        Megaphone

        Re: INteresting that something so *apparently* simple is still capable of improvement.

        The very reason I'll never use any voice recognition system. My car has it, as do my Android phone and tablet - never used it on either.

    3. Malcolm 1

      Re: INteresting that something so *apparently* simple is still capable of improvement.

      I still find talking to inanimate objects somewhat uncomfortable. On the very rare occasions that I've needed to make a call when driving I've prodded the appropriate button on the steering wheel and announced "Call <whoever>" and it does work (and keeps my hands on the car controls). Still don't like it though.

  17. JDX Gold badge

    90 staff

    Blimey

    1. Afflicted.John

      Re: 90 staff

      Some in California too...

  18. Rikkeh
    Thumb Up

    On the one hand....

    ...I'm extremely impressed with its ability to predict what I'm going to type. On the other, I'm depressed that I'm *that* predictable.

    The next version of Swiftkey will log into el Reg and make that comment on my behalf.

  19. R.Moore

    Nexus 4

    The Nexus 4 has a stock keyboard that operates in the same way (i.e. like swype, swiftkey, flextT9)

    Anyone know if it's swype or something different?

    1. Mark .

      Re: Nexus 4

      That's now in Android 4.2 for any device. It's not Swype - and after trying it for a bit, I went back to Swype.

      A great thing about Swype is that you can press any word that's wrong and choose from alternatives, whilst the Android one only lets you do this for the last typed word (and typically I tend to type it all quick, then proof-read what I've written). (Anyone know if Swiftkey does this too?) Also I found that the guesses at what I'd swiped tended to be more accurate for Swype. A shame that Swype isn't in Google Play (not that downloading it elsewhere is a problem, but it's annoying to have to sign up with an email address, and it's in a perpetual beta state...)

  20. Amorous Cowherder
    Thumb Up

    Brilliant!

    Brilliant! When I installed it last year I was so surprised it knew about my home town, some backwater spit in Hertfordshire. Then after about 3 weeks of using it, it was almost as if it knew my mind when I started typing messages, obviously the algorithms they've got for scanning your language habits are pretty neat stuff!

    I got a copy from Google when they had it on offer for 10p and so glad I did!

    1. blapping

      Re: Brilliant!

      yay you saved £1.39. Result.

  21. philbo

    It gives the perfect excuse

    ..for all those malapropisms and weird interpolations of something that is obviously the wrong word.

    People blaming predictive text (e.g. for my wife becoming "Heavier" in texts) can't get away with some things that show they just can't spell, but now completely the wrong word can happily be blamed on the soffits.

  22. Paul 135

    Sod this...

    In find auto-correction annoying and would rather have precise input in the first place.

    "The Android development team had roots in devices with real physical QWERTY keyboards such as the Sidekick, and the very first Android device (the T-Mobile G1) had a physical keyboard, too. "

    I think it's time we had a return to those roots. Unfortunately, device manufacturers, through their obsession with copying crApple, are no longer giving consumers this CHOICE. More devices like the Xperia Pro and Motorola Photon Q (in Europe!) please.

    1. Brian Morrison
      Joke

      Re: Sod this...

      Would you like built in electrocution for when you mis-type something too?

    2. GregC
      Thumb Up

      Re: Sod this...

      Yup. Specifically I want a proper, landscape, slide out QWERTY - I dislike Blackberry-style keyboards almost as much as onscreen ones. I don't care if it makes the phone thicker, or heavier (in fact fuck it, stick a nice big battery in there while you're at it) I just want a decent hardware keyboard.

    3. Paul 135
      FAIL

      Re: Sod this...

      .... and the above was typed on my Nexus 7 where it decided to convert my first word, "I", to "In". QED.

  23. Hollerith 1

    So it's just me then...?

    I spent a lot of time removing the mis-anticipated next phrase, which was never what I was going to say, until I decided to get rid of the thing.

  24. Tom Jasper
    Thumb Up

    "I am a beautiful person"

    This is a lie, at least if judged on external appearance, but I'm good with that..

    However, at least with version 3 and it's forerunners, if you installed afresh without any history, opened a dialogue box and hit space repeatedly, that is what would be typed.

    Wonderful, huh.?

    Kii Keyboard is, incidentally, also very good but doesn't (I think) have the ability to seed the Ngrams' with gmail, twitter and SMS sent messages.

    Typed with my old clattery much abused desktop keyboard.

  25. Anonymous C0ward

    Is it that much better than Swype?

  26. Nick Kew

    Your chance to invest in touchtype

    Touchtype is backed by venture capital: specifically Octopus Investments' "Titan" funds (who are paying me a chunky tax-free dividend next month from another successful investment).

    They have an offer for subscription open right now: an opportunity to buy in to a share in Touchtype, along with about 50 other early-stage companies hoping for growth.

  27. revdjenk
    Holmes

    SwiftKey vs Swype

    Swype, as has been mentioned, has a better "flow" than SwiftKey, especially with double letters. It also allows for a smaller width keyboard, which is best for me, as I usually work in landscape on my tablet (less finger travel).

    However, SwiftKey's predictive process is the best for next word/phrase. It's recording function works for more than a sentence at a time, which is what you are restricted to in Swype. Both recorders are fairly accurate.

    SwiftKey has a temporary price reduction. I think I'll buy.

  28. styoda
    Happy

    Try Swipe it's free

    http://www.swype.com/

  29. Chris007
    Trollface

    I use similar app called Swype

    and the number of Apple users who see me swyping ultrafast sentences and ask "is that available for my <insert apple device of choice>", to which I say "Sorry but Apple don't want anybody else to use a different keyboard other than their own - take it up with them, I'm sure they'll be very helpful"

    1. diego

      Re: I use similar app called Swype

      Exactly... My Galaxy S2's default keyboard is Swype and it never failed to amaze iPhone users. I've switched to SwiftKey some months ago and am loving it.

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