(Android, iOS coming soon) – SwiftKey, long one of the most popular third-party keyboards for Android, just underwent a substantial update that brings significant customizability as well as a new price: free.
And, not coincidentally, the newfound customizability is related to the pricing change. SwiftKey has always offered users the choice of themes and even layouts, but the theme choices have been limited to just a few made by SwiftKey. With this update, SwiftKey has added a “theme store” with a variety of free and premium keyboard themes.
The idea is that SwiftKey is going to get more users due to being free and hopes that the influx of users will buy enough premium themes to make up for the switch to freemium model from its original $3.99 price tag.
We have taken a screenshot of the store so you can get an idea of how this will work:
All themes are either free or $0.99 at this point.
These changes might be aggravating to early adopters of SwiftKey, many of whom paid the full $3.99 price. To thank those loyal customers, SwiftKey is offering their most jam-packed “theme pack” to all who paid for the app. Theme packs are simply bundles of themes bought for a discount. The “Premier Pack” was originally $4.99, but will appear as free to people who bought SwiftKey before it turned free. 10 themes are included.
In addition to the new theming options, SwiftKey has changed its default “Cobalt” theme to one they are calling “Nickel.” It’s a subtle change, but a sharp one. Here’s Nickel:
Beyond those things, SwiftKey says they have improved their already best-in-class prediction engine to help prevent typos and speed up typing. Gesture recognition for swipe typing has improved as well. A new feature for the prediction is emoji prediction. So if I type out the word money, one of the “word” suggestions will be a dollar bill emoji.
As someone who has not eagerly used emojis in the past, this could very well increase my desire to use them. The fact that I had to pull up a second screen of characters to input emojis meant that I usually didn’t even think of it.
A number row is now an option as well – that is, you can have a 0-9 digit row above the letters by default rather than switching to the number and special character screen or pressing and holding to use numbers. Since it takes up additional screen space, it is not the default option.
What is unsaid is the extent to which this is preparation for SwiftKey’s arrival on iOS, something Apple made possible with their iOS 8 update that is coming in the fall. It makes sense to make SwiftKey free since iOS users, while probably eager to try a new keyboard in many cases, are not at all accustomed to the idea of paying for third-party replacements to the basic functionality of their devices.
I also sense some iOS inspiration in some of the new themes, such as this one:
It’s flat, colored by a gradient, and has that light blue to bluish green color palette that we started to see with the release of iOS 7. While Android has moved towards a flat interface as well, its palette is far more vibrant and saturated with geometric design cues.
Eager iOS users can test things out by downloading SwiftKey Note, a free app that is basically a notepad with SwiftKey keyboard. This was created for iOS 7, which does not allow third-party replacements to the default Apple keyboard. SwiftKey sort of circumvented this by making a text input app where you can use its keyboard. It is extremely limited in functionality, of course, since you can only use SwiftKey Note to take notes within the app itself.
Download SwiftKey at the Google Play Store.