Although third-party keyboard app SwiftKey has been making iOS news in recent weeks, the company hasn’t forgotten its Android roots and its loyal following. On Wednesday, SwiftKey launched a major update to its Android platform, dropping its $4 price tag and instead adopting a freemium model. Other new features include an upgraded default theme (“Cobalt” has been replaced by “Nickel”), emoji prediction, a built-in number row, and an ever-growing prediction engine.
New users can download the app for free and take advantage of its 15 included themes, and purchase themes individually or in packages from within the app itself. If you’re already a SwiftKey user, you can install the app’s “Premier Pack” of ten new themes for free, as a bonus for jumping on board early. These keyboard themes offer different designs and color schemes, which allow users to customize the look and feel of their keyboard. New keyboards cost $1 to install, and offer more dynamic color options. At launch, the SwiftKey store has about 30 items, with plenty of room for more.
I had a chance to try out SwiftKey’s new update before launch, and while I enjoy the aesthetics that the various themes bring, the focus of this tool will always be on its prediction engine and swipe-to-text technology, SwiftKey Flow. I enjoy the app’s new emoji predictions—yes, as silly as that sounds. However, it’s one of the features that gets better and more accurate the more you use it, much like the rest of SwiftKey. But its emoji bank has a wide selection, and it quickly starts to associate specific emoji with your commonly used words and phrases. For example, when I start to type “okay,” it often recommends the standard smiley Android bot emoji to go along with it, because I often follow up with that character.
The number row is another welcome feature, as this eliminates the need to pull up the separate number pad. Its engine and flow trail upgrades are more subtle, yet appreciated—SwiftKey works hard in the background to deliver what you need at a faster pace, but with more accuracy.
The real significance of this particular update, however, isn’t the introduction of new features or the fancy new themes. SwiftKey is embracing an entirely new business model.
“We have made the decision to go free to better enable everyone, everywhere, to use SwiftKey’s market-leading technology without payment being a barrier,” said SwiftKey’s co-founder and CEO Jon Reynolds in a statement.
With the Google Play store flooded with various keyboard options—which are all competing with the keyboard that’s already pre-installed—making SwiftKey widely available at the oh-so-attractive price point of nothing is a smart move. Or perhaps SwiftKey is experimenting with a new monetization plan now as it gears up for the iOS frontier. Though SwiftKey already has a glowing reputation of being one of the most favored third-party keyboards out there, this move should ensure its continued growth.
Look for SwiftKey’s update in the Google Play store today.