SwiftKey maker hopes iOS 7 will allow third-party keyboards

By , Jun 7, 2013

iPhone 4S (keyboard, portrait and landscape)

Unlike iOS, Android from its beginning has had the ability to install third-party keyboard software for on-screen touch typing.

It’s actually one of Android’s major advantages over iOS: third-party keyboard apps greatly improve upon stock experience with helpful features such as gestures, better voice control, enhanced predictions and even specialized input rules.

There’s no other way around the fact that stock iOS keyboard experience hasn’t kept pace with Android in terms of recognition, predictive typing and other capabilities. As much as we’d love Tim Cook & Co. to open up iOS, we’ll have to do with the limited stock experience for the time being (unless you’re jailbroken, of course).

But that’s not stopping folks like TouchType from keeping their fingers crossed. For those unfamiliar with TouchType, they are behind the popular SwiftKey software keyboard for Android phones. Speaking out publicly about the issue, one of TouchType execs clearly has his hopes high on an Apple-sanctioned third-party keyboard development…

Speaking to AllThingsD writer Ina Fried, TouchType marketing chief Joe Braidwood called stock iOS keyboard Apple’s greatest weakness:

The most obvious API for them to open is the keyboard, because it is the greatest weakness. The keyboard is the thing that needs work more than anything on that platform.

There’s no doubt that even die-hard Apple fans would love to see Android’s ability to switch out the keyboard implemented across iDevices.

For what it’s worth, Apple CEO Tim Cook hinted during his D11 talk that his company could loosen some of the stringent requirements regulating third-party iOS development.

SwiftKEy for Android (screenshot 003)

“On the general topic of opening up APIs, I think you’ll see us open up more in the future, but not to the degree that we put the customer at risk of having a bad experience,” Cook told technology journalists Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.

Braidwood is of course “eager to work” on an iOS version of their Android keyboard. Of course, that’ll be largely dependant on Apple. For now, he’s keeping mum on whether his company has talked directly to Apple about working together.

SwiftKEy for Android (screenshot 001)SwiftKEy for Android (screenshot 002)
TouchType’s SwiftKey soft keyboard for Android.

TouchType could port its Android keyboard software to iOS in “a matter of a few months,” he told AllThingsD.

If and when the keyboard is liberalized, we would jump on it with the greatest speed we could bring to the table.

There are vague signs that Apple might soften its stance.

Case in point: Siri partner Nuance – which also owns the popular Swype for Android keyboard software, recently hinted it had talks in the past with Apple executives on the subject of virtual keyboards.

“Yes, we have chatted with them, they are very smart and nice,” he rather cryptically said.

Nuance recently released the downloadable Swype keyboard on Google’s Play Store.

Heck, even the search giant Google last week brought the Nexus touch typing experience to all Android 4.0+ devices via the downloadable Google Keyboard app. It enables such features as voice dictation, gesture typing, multiple dictionaries, advanced keyboard layouts and more.

Google Keyboard teaser 001

Other Android keyboard favorites include TouchType’s SwiftKey, CooTek’s TouchPal and literally dozens of other third-party soft keyboard apps.

Which brings me to my question today: would you love to see support for third-party keyboards in iOS 7?

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  • jocastro

    i would love to see it but i doubt it will happen

  • iamlovingiOS

    Of course. Not.

  • RarestName

    There are several problems to allowing third party keyboards on iOS

    1. Updates. How are they going to release updates?

    2. Crashes. The keyboard launches together with the SpringBoard. Unlike Android, if the keyboard crashes, the SpringBoard crashes.

    3. Competition. Who is going to use Siri dictation if they can use others?

    4. Speed. TouchPal is great on iOS, but the stock keyboard is snappier.

    Also, haven’t they heard of Cydia?

    I’ve tweeted them this: “@SwiftKey would like to see a version of SwiftKey on Cydia. Would that be possible?”

    Hey, what do you know? I got ignored. How surprising. Best customer service ever.

    • Joseph

      Here’s some response.

      1. Updates could be applied the same as normal. Perhaps a badge indicating how many app updates are available that can be toggled?
      2. In order for Apple to open up their API to developers, they have to make changes to it. Evidently, making changes to how the keyboard works would be necessary to allow third-party keyboards. Even if it WASN’T necessary, it now is.
      3. I don’t know anyone who uses Siri Dictation. Siri Dictation is a selling point of every phone that included it and third-party keyboards would be an even larger selling point. Siri is still there and a virtual assistant who can send text messages for you and all of that, giving it some use that no Android keyboard actually has.
      4.Optimizations would be made. Given the fact that current keyboards run in-app instead of having a bit more system priority, of course they’ll run worse.

      TouchType can publish it on Cydia if they want, but it isn’t worth their effort if they want to make it available to an even larger audience. SwiftKey is sitting nice and comfy on Android and putting it on iOS only means more profit for TouchType (SwiftKey is something you have to pay for, if you didn’t know).

      I can see fragmentation happening with this, of course. Unless Apple strictly forbids it, there will probably be two versions of some keyboards like SwiftKey running around, one which is phone-optimized, and one which is tablet-optimized, and you’d have to pay for one and only get that one, and not the other. For crying out loud, developers, optimize your damn app/keyboard for all sizes.

    • chris125

      Updates could work just like normal apps through the App Store

  • Prasoon Singh

    Won’t happen. It’s Apple we’re talking about here.

  • Ian

    I’m still jailbreaking…

  • Qiren_94

    No. Just no. When I was an Android User, the thing that I most ultimately dreaded is the keyboard. Almost everyone I know uses different keyboards. When I really needed to use another person’s phone, I got so mad using their keyboard because I was so used to mine. Hope this wouldn’t happen to iOS.

    • zoryy0001

      go f**k yourself somewhere!!!….

      • http://twitter.com/Tkf530 Tristan

        How about over there?

      • http://kcain.com/ KC

        Wow. That’s a lot of passion over a keyboard.

      • Sam L.

        Behold, the keyboard warrior.

      • Stephen Hagans

        little rough over a keyboard discussion ..don’t you think?

      • Joseph

        Hey, I remember when we were a sensible society and respected other people’s opinions, and replied in ways that weren’t rude.

        Oh wait. No I don’t.

  • George Hu

    I highly doubt Apple will open the API for their keyboard. But we can always dream of SwiftKey on iOS. Maybe TouchType should make SwiftKey and put it on the Cydia store instead.

  • melanihi

    SwiftKey is the best keyboard out there. I have an iPhone now and this keyboard is awful compared to my droid with SwiftKey!!!

  • Hmfunny

    Won’t happen
    DO NOT EXPECT THAT

  • Gorgonphone

    wont happen and it it did i would be happy cause it would ad more places for jailbreaks to sip in…..

    • Joseph

      …What? Apple has the world’s most secure mobile operating system. Jailbreak devs have to dig deep to even find usable holes, I doubt that they’ll find one in the keyboard API. If you’re referring to adding more tweaks, then no. Opening it up would eliminate the reason to jailbreak just to get a new keyboard.

  • PainToad

    Third party keyboards are a huge security risk as key loggers can easily be included. Apple won’t risk it.

    • Joseph

      Opening it up provides different risks like this. Hopefully Apple’s reviewing team will get off their lazy asses and actually check the apps thoroughly before allowing them to be added to the App Store. That would prevent things like this from happening.

      Keyloggers WOULD be a big risk on Android, too, yet that hasn’t happened as long as people stuck to Google Play, to my knowledge. Remember the custom keyboards introduced to Cydia? Those aren’t a security risk either, since those tweaks are specifically reviewed before being added to repos like ModMyi and BigBoss.

  • kahlil velayo

    Not porting, but they will enhanced it. Love apple’s keyboard.

  • chris125

    Why doesn’t apple just integrate this into their keyboard? No need to open the API and would give people a better keyboard.

  • Sir Chrome

    I personally would love to see this implemented in iOS 7. However, seeing current Apple’s status, there is a high possibility that this won’t happen.

  • mickey

    I used to think the iOS keyboard was perfectly fine (probably because my muscle memory and adaptation to its habits). But after using swiftkey on my 2nd device for an extended period of time, I do start to dread typing on my iPhone at times. I just don’t see Apple doing this anytime soon though. Cydia is always a dream but I don’t see it being a worthwhile route for TouchType.

  • bh

    this single feature (no swiftkeys on iPhone) keeping me from switching to iPhone.