Fleksy keyboard (teaser 001)

Although the stock iOS keyboard has come a long way since the original iPhone, Apple in past six years has largely made incremental improvements to one of the most important features of touch devices. For example, a new keyboard in iOS 7 features a number of smart functions such as the improved auto-correct function, while introducing new light and dark themes.

Enter Fleksy, a San Francisco-based startup which has offered up its own keyboard app for iOS devices for the past year and a half. They have now created a software development kit (SDK) allowing Apple’s registered iOS developers to implement additional keyboard layouts and looks in their apps to augment Apple’s rather restricted stock choices…

The Verge sat down with Fleksy founder Ioannis Verdelis who explained that their SDK integrates the keyboard “deeper than it’s ever been integrated”. Their standalone app was more like a proof of concept for people with vision problems, combining gestures and touch typing to speed up writing on tiny smartphone screens.

The app lets folks swipe their thumb to make spaces between words and slide between suggested words before they’re finished typing them out. “Fleksy’s creators go so far as to say you can even type on it without looking, like people do on physical computer keyboards,” explains The Verge.

The SDK takes the concept of third-party keyboards on iPhone, iPod touch and iPad devices to the next level. It’s interesting that the SDK launched with initial integration with four notable apps: the Google Voice client GV Connect, typing aid Blindsquare, text editor Wordbox and productivity tool Launch Center Pro.

Here’s Launch Center with a Fleksy keyboard.

Fleksy keyboard (screenshot 001)

Cool, no?

The aforementioned apps will be soon updated with support for Fleksy’s keyboard.

UPDATE: Launch Center Pro 2.1 with Fleksy integration is now live in the App Store.

Strangely enough, the SDK is not open to everyone as developers must file a request to get access to Fleksy’s soft keyboard API. Fleksy has a final say over who gets access.

Verdelis says that’s so the company can make sure everything looks good and is simple to toggle,” The Verge writes.

Verdelis says he’s leaving it up to others to determine whether they want to offer Fleksy as a free add-on, or as a paid upgrade through in-app purchase. That could mean a user pays over and over again in multiple apps to get access to the system they’re used to.

I was wondering why nobody seized the opportunity to fill the iOS keyboard space with an SDK of sorts, especially given how Android fans are proud with their ability to easily install any third-party keyboard on their devices.

Even the maker of the popular Android keyboard SwiftKey said Apple should liberalize the iOS keyboard, suggesting the company “would jump on it with the greatest speed we could bring to the table”.

Speaking of SwiftKey, they just released a new Android beta keyboard which adds over 500 emojis and an optional number row.

If you ask me, Apple really needs to open up iOS to third-party keyboards.

Unofficial solutions like SwiftKey are nice, but they’re not so great for the user experience because people expect consistent behavior across apps and changing the keyboard for different apps is just bad from the UX standpoint.