Apps re-invent smartphone keyboards to reduce typing frustration

Apple CEO Cook speaks during an Apple event in San Francisco in this file photo

TORONTO (Reuters) – New smartphone apps aim to solve the problem of keyboards causing aching fingers or auto-correct resulting in embarrassing blunders.

The apps replace Qwerty keyboards with alternatives designed to provide better auto-correct and more seamless typing.

Minuum, which launched for the iPhone and is available for Android devices, converts the keyboard into a single staggered line of characters and learns users’ typing habits to predict what they will type next.

“Your fingers are very large relative to the size of your screen, so the first thing we do is assume that everything you type is sloppy and that you’re making mistakes all the time,” said Will Walmsley, co-founder and chief executive officer of Toronto-based Whirlscape, which created the app.

The app’s algorithms sense the general area that users are typing to predict the word they intend to type, and then provides a list of 10 options.

Walmsley said compressing the keyboard also gives users more screen space and a familiar way of typing without needing to move their fingers up and down.

The app, which costs $1.99 on iPhone and $3.99 on Android, is available worldwide in English. Android users can also get the app in Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Italian and Russian.

Swype, which launched on the iPhone and is available for Android, Symbian and Windows phones, lets people glide their fingers over a character instead of tapping. As users glide their fingers across the touchscreen keyboard, algorithms predict the word they intend to type based on the keys their fingers cross.

Aaron Sheedy, vice president of mobile, text and speech at Burlington, Massachusetts-based Nuance, which created the app, says it is a more natural function than traditional typing.

“The organic nature of touchscreens is to swipe and glide. But as soon we open the keyboard, we have to grab both our hands and put our thumbs in an unnatural position to start typing away,” he said.

The app’s predictive algorithms learn a user’s language habits over time, including proper nouns that often cause trouble for auto-correction algorithms.

“Our goal is to get the keyboard to understand your words and how you write,” Sheedy said of Swype, which costs 99 cents on the iPhone.

Other popular keyboard apps include SwiftKey and TouchPal, free for iOS and Android, and GIF Keyboard for the iPhone.

Although Android users have been able to replace their keyboards with alternatives, Apple has only recently allowed its users to do so.

Craig Palli, chief strategy officer at Boston-based Fiksu, believes it is a move many iPhone users have been awaiting.

“The biggest complaint among Android fans for years about the iPhone was that it didn’t support Swype-like functionality, which is a highly efficient means of inputting information,” said Palli.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Dan Grebler)


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