Swype: making better mobile phone keyboards

September 14, 2010 | Robert Scoble

Pecking out the keys on a touchscreen isn’t much fun. Smartphones are supposed to make life easier, but when it comes to typing, they’re much harder to use than a desktop or laptop with a standard keyboard. Enter Swype, a new kind of keyboard, specifically made for mobile phones. Instead of hunting and tapping at each key, a Swype keyboard lets you drag a finger from letter to letter, with superior prediction of what word you’re writing, without having to hit each key perfectly. It’s the default keyboard on many of the Android phones, and it improves typing speed, accuracy—and enjoyment.

Cliff Kushler is the founder of Swype, and was also an inventor of T9 texting, a lifesaver on older phones. “The touchscreen is not really designed as a tapping mechanism,” Kushler explains. “Obviously you can tap on it. But you don’t really get the kinesthetic feedback you get from a keyboard, and even a tablet isn’t really big enough to support a full-size keyboard. So ten-finger typing, while it’s extremely efficient if you’ve got the right mechanism to support it, isn’t really going to work that well in a touchscreen environment.”

In Swype’s own usability studies, users have been averaging 40 words a minute on Swype keyboards, which are now on phones from Samsung, Motorola, and HTC, in 50 different countries.

Mike McSherry, Swype CEO, says that users find the new keyboard highly addictive. “Of the people that use Swype exclusively on their device,” McSherry says, “94% said they can never go back to tapping. The stickiness and loyalty is tremendously powerful with Swype. They just say it’s archaic to go back to tapping once you’ve gotten used to the Swype methodology.”

That’s probably why Kushler and McSherry have big goals for the company: nothing short of ubiquity. “We hope to achieve billions of units shipped,” says McSherry. They’re on their way.

More info:
Swype web site: http://swypeinc.com
Swype profile on CrunchBase: http://www.crunchbase.com/company/swype
Swype in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/21/technology/21swype.html

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