A Plug for Swype

People don't like to talk about it much, but the multitouch technology on Android phones just isn't as good as Apple's. Techcrunch (of all outlets) puts its nice and succinctly:

If the iPhone is 8/10 on text input, the Nexus One is probably 5/10 and the Nexus S is a solid 6/10.

For most applications it's not really a big problem, but it's particularly noticeable when typing text in portrait orientation. It's subtle. Android devices really aren't that far behind the iDevices in accuracy, but the mistakes get annoying when typing significant amounts of text. It was grating enough that I started typing everything in landscape mode and came close to switching platforms because of it.

A week or so ago I got an invite to the Swype beta, and it changed the way I use Android. The idea behind Swype is that it changes text input by allowing users to slide a finger to each letter of a word in succession and lift their finger only once the word is complete. Swype uses a built in dictionary to guess the word they were typing, and it's astonishingly accurate. Sliding a finger over various letters is never 100% accurate anyway, so the touch accuracy of Android devices really isn't such a big problem anymore. Another implicit feature is that it changes typing back to a one-handed activity, while maintaining approximately the same speed that iPhone and BlackBerry users are getting with two hands.

Edge cases are nicely handled as well. After installation, my own name and those of my contacts are already in Swype's dictionary. Swype is trained with new words by manually typing them out the first time (the Swype keyboard can still be used in the traditional fashion), and they will be henceforth be available for use. Words with double letters are handled by doing a subtle loop around the double letter while Swyping. It still makes mistakes, but these are easily managed by pounding out your message quickly on a first pass, followed by a proofing pass in which words are corrected by double-tapping them.

Android has done everything I wanted for some time: Gmail integration, Google Reader, manages todo lists, Twitter, Facebook, calendar, and alarms, but it fails to excel at any of these things. No one app or feature tied me to the platform. Swype has changed this. Before moving somewhere new, I'm going to be sure to check that there's a viable Swype alternative.

Now for a surprise: this entire post was typed via Swype! Just kidding. I like Swype but I'm not crazy.

Edit (2010/12/19) — added Swype for advanced users

Posted on December 19, 2010 from Calgary

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My name is Brandur. I'm a polyglot software engineer and part-time designer working at Heroku in San Francisco, California. I'm a Canadian expat. My name is Icelandic. Drop me a line at brandur@mutelight.org.

Aside from technology, I'm interested in energy and how it relates to our society, travel, longboarding, muay thai, symphonic metal, and the guitar.

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