Until voice-to-text texting is perfected, Microsoft is hoping that iOS users will be content with one-handed texting. The company has released a new keyboard as an iOS app that not only enables one-handed texting but also provides the ability to predict the next words users want to write.
The Word Flow app was developed by Garage, Microsoft’s in-house experimental projects division, and is now available in Apple’s App Store for users in the U.S. It was made available for beta sign-ups earlier this month.
Word Flow was originally developed for Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform and is also available for desktop users via the Windows 10 operating system. It comes on the heels of the Hub keyboard, another recent offering from the Garage division. The Hub keyboard, which is available now for iOS devices, acts as more of a multitasking and productivity tool, letting Office 365 users share and search for documents from OneDrive, SharePoint and other Microsoft services.
The Word Flow app differs by promising users faster texting thanks to the ability to swipe input instead of typing it. The app’s one-handed typing mode is displayed by way of an arc-shaped keyboard, allowing users to employ only their thumbs to type as they hold their devices. Users can customize Word Flow’s background with one of the images included in the app, or use an image of their own. Microsoft plans to add more images, including arc-shaped images to fit with the keyboard’s design.
Independent technology analyst Jeff Kagan told us that if Word Flow is successful, it could be a game changer for mobile device owners. "Users love the iPhone, but hate it being so large they now need to use two hands to do anything," said Kagan. "Texting used to be so easy, then devices enlarged, making texting a two-hand activity."
Kagan said he was surprised Apple didn’t find a way to bring its own one-handed texting app to its customers before Microsoft had the chance. Although Apple initially kept developers from offering system-wide keyboards on iOS devices, the tech giant was slow to add advanced features to the native iPhone keyboard, leaving a need for others to fill.
Apple opened up its mobile operating system to outside developers in 2014 with iOS 8. Around the same time, Microsoft began using app development as a way to gain traction in the mobile market. In February, Microsoft bought London-based keyboard maker SwiftKey, with plans to integrate SwiftKey’s next-word prediction technology into Word Flow.
Microsoft plans to continue offering SwiftKey’s own apps. When Microsoft bought SwiftKey, it had been installed on about 300 million devices across Android, iOS and other platforms.
"If [Word Flow] can be switched from one side to the other for right-handers or left-handers, and if it really works well with one hand, this could be very big," Kagan said.
Image Credit: Microsoft's Word Flow App for iOS (pictured above) via Apple iTunes.
Posted: 2016-04-27 @ 1:04am PT
It's amazing, great to see Microsoft back in action in the mobility segment.