While I don’t usually think of Apple and Microsoft as best of friends, Microsoft’s new Word Flow keyboard, which is currently in final testing for iOS, is like a match made in heaven. Other Microsoft apps like Word and Excel do not necessarily make the most of the Apple mobile operating system, but Word Flow does.
Word Flow is not new to Microsoft. It has been available for quite a while on Window’s phones. In 2014 Word Flow won a Guinness World Record for being the fastest software keyboard to type on. Its speed is created by being a “swipe-to-type” variety of keyboard. Microsoft was one of the early pioneers of this type of keyboard that was later adopted by SwiftKey, Google, and others. Instead of pressing each key on the screen, a user can simply drag their finger across the letters to spell out the wanted word. The software guesses the word based on the location and connections of the swiping and your typing history.
Up until now, SwiftKey has been the leading swipe-type of keyboard with free apps available for both iOS and Android. In a bold move, in February of 2016, Microsoft acquired SwiftKey for $250 million. SwiftKey will continue to be available on Android and iOS for free, but it is not available on Windows Phones.
There is little doubt that the acquisition of SwiftKey made Word Flow on iOS better than ever. I am currently beta-testing Word Flow for iOS through Microsoft’s Windows Insider Program. I have always liked SwiftKey and Swype, but I like Word Flow on iOS even better.
Word Flow allows you to type either by dragging your finger from key to key or by the traditional tapping on keys. Either way brings up suggestions of words as you type. Rather than the traditional solid blue or yellow line that trails your finger when swiping on other keyboards, Word Flow uses just a few small colored dots to show your finger movements. The color of the dots is determined by the theme you choose. I find this much less distracting than the solid lines.
A program like this relies on its predictive suggestions and that is where Word Flow excels on Apple devices. It is not perfect, but it is one of the best that I’ve seen. Not only does it correctly predict words when you go over each letter correctly, but it often can account for the many of your near misses. So you don’t have to be as accurate in your typing or swiping as you do with some other keyboards.
The predictive suggestions that Apple made to their keyboard in iOS 9 were excellent, but they pale in comparison to those in Word Flow for iOS. Also Word Flow continues to learn by assessing the words you use often and the choices that you make. After using it for a while, it often accurately predicts what I want to type before I move my finger to the next word. Also no worry about adding the space between words, Word Flow does it for you automatically. If you give Word Flow access to your contacts, it can even suggest the names of contacts and correct spelling of those names as you type.
One of the most impressive new features in the iOS version of Word Flow is the new one-handed design. While one-handed typing is available in other keyboards like Fleksy, Word Flow takes a different approach. Just drag the “arch” icon on the right side of the keyboard and the keys fan out into an arch.
There is a similar icon on the left for left-handers. I am not a proficient thumb typist, but I find thumb typing on this arched keyboard easier than on any other keyboard I’ve tried.
There are plenty of niceties with this Word Flow keyboard. For instance the @ sign and the period are on the main keyboard so there is no need to change to a new screen. Press the period key to bring up the question mark, comma, and exclamation mark.
Another nice feature is that you can choose themes for the background of the keyboard. You are able to use your own photo or to select from several light, dark, and nicely colored themes. Several different themes are shown in the screen shots in this article. You can change the theme by holding down the globe icon on the keyboard and choosing Settings or by starting the app and choosing Settings.
Even though the Word Flow keyboard is still in Beta, I am finding it well thought out and easy-to-use. In fact, it has quickly become my keyboard of choice. The beta expires on June 7, 2016 which may give a hint as to when the final version will be officially released. The iOS version is currently in closed beta, but if you just can’t wait to try it, head over to Microsoft’s sign up page where you can you can apply to be a tester. Microsoft has also promised an Android version.