How can IT help Africa? Julian Harty, who has worked for both Google and eBay, visited SwiftKey’s London HQ recently to tell staff why he has devoted so much of his time to this question.
Julian told us about his experiences in Kenya, where he works with a range of charities and projects to support schools and help build classrooms.
After years in the tech industry, he wanted to learn more about how innovation could help drive change in Africa so set off to visit Nairobi and became inspired by the range of startups emerging from iHub and other organisations.
An increasing number of businesses are helping improve lives and access to information and services. One of the best-known is Safaricom’s M-Pesa, a way of transfering money via SMS among communities who have little or no access to traditional banking facilities. Secure money transfer reduces the hassle for people trying to send cash to family members in rural areas – before, it could be hard and time-consuming to travel there by public transport, and there was the risk of being mugged on the journey.
In addition to working with existing charities, Julian plans to start his own pilot project next year. He wants to send Kindle e-readers to three schools in Kenya to make the most of the 3G coverage and the ability to remotely top-up the devices with new books.
He acknowledged there were always risks – the equipment could be stolen or left to languish unused. But struck by how basic the equipment tends to be in schools and how durable and intuitive devices like e-readers are, he believes it’s worth a shot to try to boost literacy and engagement.
Julian is the latest in a series of external speakers to visit and inspire the SwiftKey London HQ. Previous talks have been delivered by Stephen Fry and Professor Ted Briscoe as well as individuals from business and government.
For more information about the kinds of projects Julian supports, visit Amani UK.
Happy holidays everyone,
We have a special treat for you – a half price sale and new update with a brand new theme, some new languages, and some helpful bugfixes.
If you’ve already purchased SwiftKey just log into the relevant app store using the same details you used when you bought it and the updated version should be there ready for you to download.
Our festive Berry theme will brighten up your phone on these cold winter days. If you’re not sure how to change your theme check out our how-to video here.
SwiftKey users around the world get to join in the celebration too, as this update includes support for Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Hindi, Hinglish, Irish Gaeilge, Macedonian, Spanish (Latin America) and Tagalog. You can see our full list of supported languages here.
This update also includes a number of bugfixes – you can see the full change list on our Support site.
PS SwiftKey Flow is still currently in Beta – we are working on implementing a number of improvements and fixes based on the feedback we’ve received from our awesome SwiftKey VIPs. You can join in the conversation on our VIP Community.
The piece below was written to support SwiftKey’s entry into the 17th Annual Webby Awards. We were named Official Honorees in the category of ‘Best User Experience’, being ranked in the top 10% of all work submitted.
Seeing SwiftKey Flow Beta receive nearly 200,000 downloads in its first 24 hours lead us to reflect on our technology’s progress so far. Our new users have downloaded SwiftKey 3 at a rate three times as fast as previous versions of SwiftKey. We’ve been a No.1 paid app on Google Play across 38 countries and have received over 15 million downloads. SwiftKey users have saved a staggering total of 170 billion keystrokes with our app so far – that’s more than a millennium of typing time saved. If that figure wasn’t mind-boggling enough, our users have also typed over half a trillion keystrokes with SwiftKey!
We’re growing fast, but some things will never change: SwiftKey is about the experience of the user. This the key to our success and what differentiates us. From the very start, we knew that the challenge we faced was fundamentally a problem about people and their language use, not about keyboards and code.
Our prediction engine gets to know you; it learns from the way you write each day and from your different social communication channels. This allows SwiftKey to suggest the words you want to type next with astonishing accuracy. Applying our knowledge of Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning allows us to makes SwiftKey incredibly personalized to each user. SwiftKey’s Typing Heatmap means that even the sloppiest of typists don’t lose out; it visualizes tapping accuracy on each key and SwiftKey uses this to tailor predictions to each user’s unique typing habits.
We have lots of fun here at the office (table tennis, monthly innovation days and the occasional spontaneously exploding glass of water – don’t ask, we have no idea either) but providing an outstanding user experience is something we take very seriously.
We’ve designed SwiftKey so that our users get the most out of it with the least input. In our internal tests, a third of all next words were correctly predicted before typing a single character and 84% of words were predicted after just two characters were entered. The SwiftKey prediction engine intelligently takes the context of the words into account to provide unparalleled predictions. As Business Insider put it: “The differentiating part of SwiftKey is that, among all the predictive text apps, SwiftKey actually works.”
We aim to retain simplicity of design without losing any functionality. With our keyboard’s user interface, we’ve ensured that all of our features are easily accessible from a clear and intuitive exterior. Computer World said: “SwiftKey’s user interface is also a strong point, both from a visual and a functional perspective… [the] on-screen functions make a huge difference.” They go on to say that “in contrast [to the default options] the most common characters… are accessible by long-pressing regular on-screen letter keys. This makes for a faster and much more intuitive typing experience.”
The prediction area above the keys makes it easy for users to choose corrected words as they type, as well as SwiftKey’s unique next-word predictions. Users always have the option to choose their verbatim input too, allowing SwiftKey to learn as they write and adapt to their unique writing style. You can also boost SwiftKey’s knowledge of your writing habits by allowing SwiftKey to learn from your SMS, Facebook, Gmail, Twitter and blog archives. To make SwiftKey truly yours, you can pick from one of our nine specially designed keyboard themes.
Not everyone likes to enter text by tapping. That’s why we built SwiftKey Flow (currently in beta) from the ground up, adding a completely new take on continuous input. Words are traced by gliding a finger from letter to letter with real-time predictions; these are accepted by simply lifting your finger. You can switch between tapping and ‘flowing’ as you please, without changing any settings. A feature called ‘Flow Through Space’ allows an entire sentence to be written without letting go of the screen; users simply glide over the space bar between words.
SwiftKey wouldn’t be able to offer such a great user experience without our users. We take a collaborative approach to developing our app to make it even better. Our dedicated and engaged community of ‘VIPs’ has recently surged to nearly 90,000 users, helping our team make SwiftKey what it is. They suggest core improvements via a democratized user forum and gain close access to our dev team and early access to beta products.
You might have seen that earlier this year we went out to New York and San Francisco to meet some of our VIP users. We asked some of them “What does SwiftKey mean to you?” and made a film of their responses.
One comment that really stood out to us was from a user that said, “most of the time I’m writing in half-English and half-Spanish… That’s the thing that’s pretty cool about it – it corrects in both languages at the same time.” Our innovation in language technology, such as being the only keyboard to support up to three languages simultaneously, translates into real lives being impacted. SwiftKey’s app currently supports 54 languages and we’re working hard to continue raising this number so that as many users around the world as possible can benefit from our technology.
The user experience of SwiftKey’s first enterprise product has also been praised. We designed SwiftKey Healthcare to enable clinicians to produce high quality documentation on touchscreen devices in less time; this has boosted productivity and allowed staff to spend more time on patient care. Bringing the product functionality that SwiftKey is reknown for, the predictions are based on real-world patient data and tailored to each clinical context. Usage data from 1,424 of our users shows a 47% increase in efficiency – this equates to approximately 66,000 hours (7.5 years) of typing time saved so far, which can be reinvested elsewhere. Making such an impact its first year, SwiftKey Healthcare won an Appsters for ‘Best Enterprise App’. We made a Youtube video to allow our SwiftKey Healthcare users to express their experience of the product in their own words.
Our team can’t wait to reveal what else we’re up to behind the scenes at our new London HQ. We’d like to thank all of our users for their amazing support and input as we continue to apply our technology on a global stage, improving more people’s everyday lives. We’d love to hear your comments below on what makes SwiftKey a great user experience for you.
What happened when SwiftKey invited talented undergrads to take on a coding challenge against co-founder and CTO, Ben Medlock? Chief Operating Officer Lucy Yu explains…
Last week SwiftKey hosted its first ever open day, throwing its doors open to five talented undergraduate students with a passion for technology and innovation.
The day’s activities were carefully chosen to give the lucky few a flavour of life at SwiftKey’s HQ as well as the opportunity to meet the team and to get down to some serious programming with a fun application.
The morning consisted of presentations and activities exploring different parts of the business. SwiftKey’s CTO and co-founder Ben Medlock talked about the history of SwiftKey and the application of AI in the real world. Ben’s talk was followed by Software Engineer Alex Nixon, who revealed how SwiftKey applies its expertise in Natural Language Processing to deliver its industry-leading products.
SwiftKey’s User Experience Lead Nikiforos Karamanis then facilitated a group of lively activities focused around user experience and the user’s relationship with their device. As part of the discussion Niki encouraged the group to make quick hand-drawn sketches, which he used to illustrate the user benefits of smartphones vs feature phones, and to highlight some of the differences in appearance and usability brought about by device customisation.
After joining the entire London-based team for a lunch of wood-fired pizza, in the afternoon the students split into two groups to take part in a novel, machine learning based programming competition. The groups were led by Software Engineers James Aley and Shaobo Hou, and the afternoon culminated with the results of each team’s efforts being pitted against those of Ben Medlock – with a surprising outcome. Let’s just say that Ben will be going back to the drawing board before the next open day! The day’s activities concluded with drinks at SwiftKey’s local, and everyone who took part took away one of our highly prized SwiftKey t-shirts.
Massive thanks to Ben, Tom, Jamie, Darcy and Luke for joining us on the day and for proving such great sports. We’ll be holding further open days in 2013, and full details will be posted on the website: watch this space.
Update 28th January 2013 – see our latest blog post for the new Beta
UPDATE 4TH JAN 2013 - A new version of SwiftKey Flow Beta is now available – see our blog for details
Today we’re making SwiftKey Flow beta available and we’re very excited about it. SwiftKey Flow is so much more than another gesture input keyboard. It redefines touchscreen typing with a series of incredible innovations.
Most notably, SwiftKey Flow lets you write an entire sentence without letting go of the screen. All you need to do is pass your finger over the space bar between each word that you trace out. Let SwiftKey Flow do the rest, and you’ll see the words you want magically appear on the screen. We call this ‘Flow Through Space’.
So as many of you can try the SwiftKey Flow beta as possible, we’ve made it so that all you need to is download the following APK(s) and install them on your devices. But please do remember to come back to our VIP community and give us feedback; we rely on this to refine the beta and make Flow as awesome as possible.
SwiftKey Flow is very versatile, predicting the word you may want from the moment you begin to glide your finger on the screen. Just let go when the word you want appears. The keyboard also seamlessly integrates with SwiftKey’s classic tap engine, adapting the touch-sensitive areas of the keyboard to your tapping style to boost accuracy. And of course, the keyboard incorporates SwiftKey’s famous next word predictions.
Your feedback is vital to this beta being a success. Evan Tapper, SwiftKey’s Community Manager, sums it up best: “Our community is a vital part of this process. We rely on their feedback to ensure the product is in the best possible shape before it hits the market. But it’s about more than that – it’s about engaging with our users and building products that people really love to use.”
So please, join us and be a part of making SwiftKey even better. We’re looking forward to hearing what you think!
And finally, if you’re looking for a way to say thanks – remember that today is the last day to nominate SwiftKey in the TechCrunch 2012 Crunchies.
On Wednesday 21st November, we were pleased to host Lord Green, Minister of State for Trade & Investment, at SwiftKey HQ. The visit, organised by UK Trade & Investment, was a chance for both parties to discuss the on-the-ground reality of being a fast-growing young British company.
Our CEO Jon Reynolds, and CTO Ben Medlock spoke with Lord Green over lunch about SwiftKey’s journey and the obstacles we have faced along the way. It was a great opportunity for us to voice our experiences and share the highs and lows we’ve encountered as a UK startup in Europe’s tech capital.
Having a keen interest in language technology himself, we were excited to also be able to show Lord Green some demos of the innovative things we’ve been up to at SwiftKey Towers. Giving a glimpse into some of the secret fun stuff we’ve got up our sleeve is always as much a pleasure for ourselves as for our guests. (more…)
We’ve had reports from some users that a bug with Android 4.2 results in SwiftKey being deleted when they upgrade to the new mobile operating system.
While this isn’t affecting every user, it is certainly frustrating and we’re sorry for the inconvenience caused. We’ve made contact with Google, who have acknowledged the bug and say they’re working on a fix.
Fortunately, affected users can simply redownload SwiftKey from Google Play or Amazon to get our great keyboard back. As long as you’re signed into the same account that you originally used to purchase the app, you’ll be able to download it again for free. Also, remember that to get SwiftKey fully installed, you may need to click on the SwiftKey 3 icon in your app drawer to initialize the installation process. Once up and running, it’s worth using our personalization features to quickly tailor your language profile back to the way you use language.
Thanks for your patience with this issue.
The SwiftKey team
PS The beta for SwiftKey Flow will be ready for testing very soon!
It’s the 20th anniversary of the text message! Today’s college students won’t remember a world without SMS, but those of us who are older can probably recall when they discovered this new feature. Do you remember your first text? Tell us in the comments below!
We do a lot more on our phones than we did 20 years ago. When we surveyed 17,000 smartphone users earlier this year with Mobile Nations and Pocket-Lint, we found people email, text, and browse the internet on their phones more than they make calls – communication on smartphones is largely through typing not speaking. We also found people rate being able to type easily as being as important as call quality and more important than price, camera, appearance or brand.
Here’s SwiftKey CEO and co-founder Jon Reynolds on why the party’s not over for the SMS:
“Far from this 20th anniversary marking the death of the text message, people are actually communicating using their thumbs more than ever.
“An Ofcom report in 2012 showed that 58% of people communicate by texts on a daily basis compared to just 47% making phone calls, with texts overtaking for the first time. What’s more, modern so-called threats to SMS are really text messages over wifi and in another format – WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook all borrow from the original technology.
“Although the core technology of SMS has barely changed in 20 years, helping people accurately and quickly get their thoughts down remains the challenge, and where the recent innovations have been. The alphanumeric keyboards of the 90s have been vastly improved upon with smartphones.
“At SwiftKey we use artificial intelligence to learn how the user writes to improve auto-correction and give accurate next word predictions. In the next 20 years our text messages are likely to be able to write themselves based on what the phone knows about the user.
“The simplicity of text based communication and generous data plans mean that SMS remains in real terms as popular as ever.”
Do you remember the first SMS you ever sent? How old were you and what might it have said?
PS The SwiftKey Flow beta is coming very soon, I promise. We’re really excited about it.