If you were to make a list of the biggest, most platform-defining differences between Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, one point would be near the top: Android lets you plug third-party keyboards into the operating system, and iOS does not.
On Android, one of the most popular of those alternative keyboards is SwiftKey. And now it’s available for iOS — sort of. It’s part of SwiftKey Note, a free note-taking app for iPhone and iPad which is debuting today.
The app’s keyboard looks like the standard iOS one, but incorporates a bunch of the features which have made SwiftKey successful on Android. As you type a word, three possibilities appear above the keyboard, any one of which you can select with a tap. Once you’ve completed a word, three possibilities for the next word you might want to type appear. And as you use the app, SwiftKey learns about your typing habits, helping its autocorrections to actually be correct and its next-word predictions to be useful.
In this first iOS incarnation, there’s a lot of SwiftKey’s Android version that’s missing. Besides the fact that the keyboard is only available in this one app, you can’t connect it to Gmail, Twitter, Facebook and other sources to let it learn more about your prose style for ever better accuracy. And this version of the keyboard doesn’t include SwiftKey Flow, the Swype-like option which lets you glide your fingertip around the keyboard rather than tapping, as if it were a tiny ice skater.
(Side note: If Swype itself ever arrives on iOS, in any form, it’ll be reason for much rejoicing, at least by me; of all keyboards on all mobile devices, it’s my favorite. I don’t find Flow — or any of the numerous other Swype clones in other keyboards — as quick and accurate.)
Will anyone switch from another iOS note-taker simply to get a better keyboard? Maybe, but SwiftKey Note is integrated with the highest-profile note-taking app of them all, Evernote. Once you’ve connected the two apps, it uses Evernote to sync the notes you take between multiple devices, and everything you type in SwiftKey Note lands in Evernote, too. It’s a clever trick that lets you think of SwiftKey Note as an Evernote add-on rather than a rival.
SwiftKey Note doesn’t have a ton of features beyond the basics of note-taking, but it does have two key ones: You can copy the contents of a note to the clipboard with one tap, or send them to an e-mail. That means that if you really love its keyboard, it’s possible to tap out text in the app and then move it into any other app.
Of course, if you use an iPhone or iPad and love the SwiftKey keyboard, you’re not going to be happy with it only being available in one app — you’ll want it everywhere. Even if Apple doesn’t open up iOS to alternative keyboards, there’s a possible workaround in which SwiftKey could work directly with third-party developers to incorporate its keyboard. (SwiftKey rival Fleksy is already doing that, although it’s signed up only a handful of apps so far.)
SwiftKey says that it’s considering offering its keyboard to other iOS developers. I’ll hope it does. And when Apple starts to talk about iOS 8, as it will probably do this summer, I hope that the news involves keyboards — if not the ability to plug in an alternative such as SwiftKey or Swype, at least more Apple-grown features which are reminiscent of them.