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SwiftKey plunders social networks for style

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The latest version of mobile-keyboard SwiftKey will sample your Tweets and Facebook updates and work out what kind of writer you are to better guess what you're trying to say.

The idea isn't new: KeyPoint's Adaptxt does the same thing, though Swiftkey's latest version adds your Gmail outbox to the sources it uses to pinpoint the kind of language you use. Both companies reckon the process helps them make better predictions about what word you'll be using next, though only AdapTxt is entirely open source.

It's obvious to most people that touch-screen phones are badly designed for text input, but surprisingly few people are willing to hand over cash to improve the situation. Companies such as KeyPoint and Swipe (whose technology is based on sliding rather than tapping keys) like to make their money selling to device manufacturers rather than end users, but it's tough to draw attention from the big companies, which see few additional sales in an improved keyboard and are often unwilling to let small companies in the door.

KeyPoint hopes that going open source (under the Eclipse licence) will spur innovation and provide support for languages beyond the 50 or so that can already use Adaptxt. It must also be hoping that an open-source version will mollify handset manufacturers which might be reticent to do business with a small Glaswegian company; having an open-source base is more important to them than it is to end users.

SwiftKey, on the other hand, does sell direct to end users. The current version (listed at £1.23 in the Android Marketplace) doesn't do the social-networking thing to improve recognition rates, it just relies on previous behaviour and thus improves with use. There's a beta of the new version (already in the Marketplace) which is free to try if you want to see how well it works.

Actively seeking out the user's previous work should make the software more useful out of the box, and the company's demonstration video claims its software is ideal for profanity-spouting rugby fans prone to dropping into the Welsh vernacular (demonstrated by the Chief Commercial Officer).

Android does support Bluetooth keyboards these days (and mice – complete with tiny mouse pointer), but there's still room for soft keyboards that guess what we're trying to say even if they get it wrong every now and then. ®

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