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SwiftKey offers alternative for Android typists

But Swype remains an OEM-only option

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Android users searching for a better keyboard can now buy SwiftKey, a word-prediction technology. This is good, because Swype will never be available that way.

SwiftKey works by trying to guess what word the user is going to type next, a bit like Google Scribe, only useful. SwiftKey allows faster text entry for those who can select their next word rather than trying to type it. Android users have a handful of keyboard options, though the most popular - Swype - reckons selling to users is a mug's game.

Trying to squeeze a QWERTY keyboard onto a phone's screen is always going to be a compromise, to say the least. These days even iPhone users can connect a Bluetooth keyboard, but those using Android are stuck with what can be squeezed onto the screen and what software can be used to ease that compression.

Swype is a marvellous thing - the user traces paths between letters making up a word - but Swype is betting its future on selling to manufacturers rather than users. The company reckons that trying to support the plethora of Android or Symbian hardware and applications is more effort than it's worth - manufacturers can integrate support for Swype at a low level, ensuring greater compatibility.

Having recently tried a Freedom Pro Keyboard on Android, we can attest to the integration problems. Freedom Pro bodges a Bluetooth connection with drivers still in beta, and while it works most of the time it also suffers from obscure compatibility issues, such as only working in landscape mode in certain applications.

Those problems should disappear, but they are indicative of the difficultly of replacing the input mechanism on a platform that wasn't designed with that in mind. Windows Mobile, for all its faults (and it had many) provided an interface specifically for developers wanting to replace the keyboard. Windows Phone 7 will apparently offer the same thing, assuming anyone is interested.

We've only had the quickest look at SwiftKey, which is being launched with a three-day discount price of 69 pence. But if you're not blessed with a handset supporting Swype, and can't wait for proper Bluetooth support, then it's probably worth taking advantage of the Android Marketplace's 24-hour money-back deal to take a look. ®

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