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Rachel Metz

A View from Rachel Metz

The iPhone Gets Another Virtual Keyboard--Sort of

Apple doesn’t allow other keyboards as default on the iPhone, but developers can add them to apps and Fleksy is egging them on.

  • December 12, 2013

One of the things that irks me about the iPhone is how much control Apple exerts over the software behind it, iOS. Over the years, Apple has ceded some power to third-party developers, enabling them to include and customize more features in their apps, but there are still “no-access” zones.

Perhaps the silliest example of this is the virtual keyboard that you use to type anything on the phone. In iOS, whether you like it or not, it’s not possible to use anything but the built-in Apple-made keyboard to type an e-mail, a tweet, Google search query, or pretty much anything else. You can’t just download a keyboard app, as you can on an Android smartphone, and make that your default keyboard.

There is a workaround, though. While an app maker can’t offer a keyboard as the default across all the different apps and features on an iPhone (or any iOS-running device), they can include a third-party keyboard (theirs or someone else’s) within a single app. In theory, a single keyboard maker could spread its virtual keys across the iOS app ecosystem by working with a number of app makers. It sounds clunky, but it is possible, and a virtual keyboard maker called Fleksy is trying to do it.

Fleksy, which makes a predictive keyboard that can determine what you’re typing even if you are quite inaccurate, started letting iOS app makers use its software development kit in March to add Fleksy to their apps. On Thursday, the company announced that four iOS apps in Apple’s App Store–Wordbox, GV Connect, Launch Center Pro, and Blindsquare–have updates that let users decide if they want to use the Fleksy keyboard instead of the standard iOS keyboard.

Fleksy is no stranger to trying new things: the company’s keyboard is included on a new smart watch from a company called Omate, and it is also working on software for the Leap Motion gesture controller. And it actually has a good product that doesn’t include a steep learning curve.

In the past, Apple CEO Tim Cook has cited the need to avoid putting customers “at risk of having a bad experience” as a general reason for why Apple will always keep a certain amount of control over iOS. Yet forcing developers to figure out loopholes in the system if they want to get their products in front of users could also lead to a bad customer experience. Hopefully Fleksy and its partner apps will avoid this, and eventually Apple will offer developers a better option.

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