Services & Software

Forget SwiftKey; Swype is the iOS keyboard to get

It's a little limited and a little buggy, but when it comes to fast and easy typing, nothing beats swiping.


Earlier this year, after spending two months with the Android-powered Moto X, I decided to go back to my iPhone. It wasn't a knock against Android, I just decided I preferred iOS.

But there was one thing I sorely missed when I went back: Google's gesture-powered keyboard. Five minutes after using it for the first time, my brain totally rewired to that method of input, and I knew I could never go back to tap-typing.

Alas, back I went, because at the time Apple didn't allow for any keyboard other than its own. Thankfully, that changed with the launch of iOS 8 , which supports third-party keyboards like Fleksy, SwiftKey, and, most important to me, Swype.

In the few days since iOS 8 debuted, I'd say SwiftKey has received the lion's share of media attention -- but I encourage you to try Swype. It costs 99 cents, whereas SwiftKey is free, but to my thinking there's no faster, easier way to input text on an iPhone.

For those unfamiliar with the concept -- and it is something of a concept -- Swype relies on gesture-based input. Instead of tapping a letter, lifting your finger, then tapping the next one, you simply drag your finger from one letter to the next, effectively tracing the entire word instead of tap-typing it.

In my experience, the software is amazingly accurate at identifying the word I'm, er, swiping. And you can always tap-type if you need to, such as for proper names, abbreviations, and the like. Better still, using Swype doesn't deprive you of the predictive-text capabilities offered by the new iOS 8 keyboard; those guesses still appear as you type or swipe.

Swype for iOS lets you choose from a handful of themes. Nuance

In other words, you're kind of getting the best of all worlds, keyboard-wise.

Now for the bad news: Swype is a bit buggy and limited in its current 1.0 version. When the keyboard pops up it sometimes obscures the active text field, forcing you scroll so you can actually see what you're typing. I've also had apps crash or lock up while I used Swype, and on occasion the keyboard itself failed to activate; I had to manually re-select it from the menu.

No doubt Nuance will sweep up these and other bugs at some point, but my real complaints are with omissions. First, there's no integrated emoji, and even something as simple as pecking out a smiley emoticon such as :) is difficult because the symbols keyboard has a non-standard layout.

Second, Swype lacks the iOS-standard microphone icon, the one to the left of the space bar. That means I can't dictate text without switching back to the stock keyboard. However, this is not a Swype-specific limitation: "We would love to provide users the ability to use our voice dictation, but currently the microphone is not available for keyboard extensions in iOS 8," according to the Nuance FAQ page. (The page also references the "missing keyboard" bug I mentioned above, which apparently is affecting "all third-party keyboards." Your move, Apple!)

All this can be easily remedied. And those issues might not even be issues for some users. The bigger picture is that I can finally swipe-type again, and that makes me a very happy iPhone user. By all means, try SwiftKey -- it's free, after all -- but consider dropping a buck to enjoy gestures, and share your thoughts below.

Update: Just to clarify, SwiftKey also offers gesture-based typing, though it's not enabled by default.