SwiftKey improves virtual keyboards again with 'Layouts for Living'

SwiftKey has bolstered its reputation for making the world's most usable virtual keyboard with the arrival of version 4.3, including a new feature that adapts the size and placement of the keyboard.
Written by Jason Hiner, Editor in Chief
SwiftKey employees collaborate on the development of their software. | Image: SwiftKey

Since the release of SwiftKey 4 in February, SwiftKey has been the king of virtual keyboards. Earlier this year I wrote that Google Now and Swiftkey were the two biggest advantages that Android has over iPhone. That still holds true.

On Thursday, SwiftKey gave its keyboard another step forward with the release of the public beta of version 4.3, including a new feature called "Layouts for Living" that gives users more flexibility in positioning the keyboard to suit different situations and user scenarios.

The new version also unifies the smartphone and tablet experiences of SwiftKey, which previously had separate smartphone and tablet apps. With the rising popularity of 6-inch phablets and 7-inch tablets, SwiftKey recongized the need for a more adaptable keyboard that has the same fundamental experience across the blurring lines of large and small mobile devices. 

SwiftKey's new "Layouts for Living" feature allows users to resize the keyboard, split it into two sides, shift its placement on the screen, and even detach it from the bottom of the screen and move it around. 

"Allowing people to manipulate the location, size and layout of the keyboard not only makes it easier to type, it gives our users a more personalized way to interact with their technology," said Ben Medlock, SwiftKey CTO and co-founder. "We are committed to creating world-class user experiences that marry our powerful language technology with interfaces that learn and adapt to each user's needs."

Here's how SwiftKey describes the three modes of Layout for Living:

1. Compact: On many larger phones it can be difficult to enter text and hold the phone with just one hand. This new feature minimizes the width of the keyboard and allows for easier typing with one-hand or gesture typing using SwiftKey Flow. It also frees up more of the screen estate on tablets.
2. Full: Users with large screens can now opt for a full-width keyboard with left-right cursor control keys and a backspace key above the "Enter" key. By placing the keys closer together, this new layout mimics the experience of two-handed typing on a physical keyboard.
3. Thumb: For people typing on tablets in landscape and with wide phones in portrait the keyboard can be split into two sections, enabling fast, comfortable typing with both thumbs.

"Typing on a piece of glass is not the most comfortable thing in the world," said SwiftKey CMO Joe Braidwood. 

"We believe in the use of empathy in design," he added. "Technology should not be stubborn and force you to adapt to it... It should adapt to you. We're trying to put together a technical experience that is deeply personal and contextual to you."

As such, the unified smartphone-tablet experience in version 4.3 also integrates with SwiftKey Cloud, which backs up all of the personalization that SwiftKey learns about you so that you can use it across multiple Android devices or move to a new phone or tablet without having to retrain SwiftKey.

Beyond just the $3.99 SwiftKey virtual keyboard app that it sells in the Google Play Store and the Amazon App Store, SwiftKey also licenses its SDK to a number of OEMs that build their own software for smartphones. Samsung is the most prominent that has publicly disclosed that it uses SwiftKey, but there are a dozen or more other companies that are either using it or trialing it. 

SwiftKey already offered the most advanced virtual keyboard on the planet, with its adaptive auto-correct, predictive text, smart space corrections, and gesture tracing for faster input. It's usually the first app that I recommend new Android users to download. Layouts for Living is going to mostly be useful to Android phablet and tablet users, but overall it's good to see the product continuing to iterate and innovate. This only extends one of Android's most important advantages against the iPhone.

This SwiftKey promo graphic shows some of the different layout options available in "Layouts for Living." | Image: SwiftKey

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