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SwiftKey X Android keyboard is too cheap--and too expensive

A new keyboard for the Android upstages the built-in keyboard(s) on your phone or tablet. But is it worth it?

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
2 min read

TouchType released its SwiftKey X alterna-keyboard for Android last week. I tried it on my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and recommend it as a replacement to either of the two keyboards that come installed on the the device (side note: Really, Samsung? You couldn't just decide?).

SwiftKey X is smarter than other on-screen keyboards that auto-complete and auto-correct words as you type since it uses not just dictionaries to make suggestions but also your own writing history, which is gleans from your Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. It even guesses at the next word you're likely to type and will give you that as the first option before you start entering it. It's a little freaky, but really speeds up input. The tablet version also has an optional split keyboard layout for easy thumb-typing.

But there is a small problem with this product: It's $4.99 on the tablet, $3.99 for the phone version. Those prices are too much and yet too little. Too much, because, who wants to pay for a keyboard when there's already a perfectly functional keyboard (or two) included with your device? It takes a fun experiment ("maybe I'll try this keyboard!") and turns it into a grudge purchase.

And too little, because, as TouchType CMO Joe Braidwood said when he showed me this product, "$3.99 is still too cheap for the amount of work we put into this technology." His company employs 35 people.

Braidwood admits that selling keyboard software to individuals will never make the company work. They'll never sell enough. The company's goal is to get a big licensing deal with a hardware vendor. That's how keyboard technologies spread (see T9) and how their inventors get rich. A previous version of the product is baked into the INQ Cloud Touch "Facebook phone," in fact.

To show vendors how much consumers like the product, Braidwood say TouchType wants to make it available to everyone. But as much as he'd like to give it away for free to really help it spread, it'd damage TouchType's licensing attempts. While in some cases freeware can carry a healthy business on its back, it's not a smart move for this type of product. Once a utility download is free, "Then it's really hard to sell to OEMs," Braidwood said.

SwiftKey X is pretty good at guessing what you're about to type. TouchType.

Although he does admit, "We're not opposed to giving it away in bursts." If you want this product, keep an eye out for promotional deals.

There are other long-shot revenue streams for SwiftKey X: The company may offer a subscription service (Braidwood is aiming low here, $1 a month) that would tie together your keyboard preferences on multiple devices, so whatever SwiftKey learns about how you type is reflected on your tablet, your smartphone, in your car, on your TV, and so forth. Also, Braidwood is looking into collecting marketing insights from how people use Swiftkey and selling that data; I predict privacy concerns (valid or not) will kill that idea pretty quickly.

Move over T9, here comes Swype
SwiftKey for Honeycomb: Speed typing on tablets