What Features Do You Look For In A Keyboard App?

On any computing device, we want the easiest and most efficient way of communicating. This communication encompasses both information that we feed into the device, and the one we get out.

The effectiveness of this interface between human and machine determines if we are “getting our pound of flesh” from our “investment”

I shall be focusing exclusively on Android, an Operating System (OS) whose modular design allows the stock Keyboard to be replaced by third party ones.

In the quest for the best possible keyboard application, I have tried out quite a number, with different experiences.

Notable, among the numerous I have tried my hands on, include:

swype_logo_featureSwype is my personal favourite.

Modern keyboard apps try to alleviate the problem of typing on small screens. With phablets and tablets now common place, the benefits derivable while designing those apps are easily extrapolated to the bigger screened cousins.

I daresay that the specific keyboard app you are using on your device would affect your productivity significantly. That is why it is advisable to pick the “best”, at any point in time, according to to our needs. For me, the search for “the best” is perpetual.

So, what are the features to look out for, in a keyboard app?

“Swipe” Ability

All keyboard apps allow you to tap on keys. But an elite few also allow you to “swipe’ on your touchscreen. These keyboard apps allow you to type words by sliding your finger across your touchscreen, connecting letters together to form words.

Some of the apps with this “swiping” ability are :

  • Swype
  • Ultra Keyboard
  • TouchPal

and, recently,

  • SwiftKey Flow

In the past, I have tried to make do with keyboard apps bereft of “swiping” ability (because of some other features) , but found that I can not live with such. I always gravitate back to the “swipy ones”

AutoComplete & Prediction

The second compelling feature is how accurate a keyboard app is.

I love “psychic” keyboard apps. When “swiping: or “tapping”, it should be adept at guessing what word you have in mind by suggesting reasonable words once you type a few letters.

Now, the operative word there is –  “reasonable”

A keyboard app should arrange the suggested words in terms of recently or frequently used words.

However, one of the annoying things about lots of keyboards is that they arrange the suggested words haphazardly. Some sort the words alphabetically.

But my favourite, Swype, almost always manages to suggest words, in the right order, with the suggested default being the correct one – most of the time. One of the ways these keyboards improve their smartness is to learn your writing style from your social media activities (like Twitter, facebook, gmail and Contacts).

Ability to define shortcuts

Some keyboard apps allow you to define “replacement text” for cryptic shortcuts.

You type something like:

“Brb”, and you get “be right back”

or..

“hagw”, and get “have a great weekend”

or..

“afaik”, and get “as far as I know”

This can save you tonnes of keystrokes, depending on how you use this wonderful ability.

This ability, sadly, is missing from “Swype” – my favourite. I am eagerly looking forward to when this feature will be incorporated into it.

Personal dictionary

Lots allow you define a dictionary consisting of words that are peculiar to you. You can put words like Naira, kobo, technical terms, etc.

I guess the idea behind the “separation of power” is to make the main internal dictionary as small in size as possible.

Cosmetic Tweakability

There are keyboard apps with tonnes of customizations, ranging from themes, coupled with the ability to change almost all the elements on the keyboard.

If “cosmetics” is your onion, you may want to check out apps like A.I.Type Keyboard, or, Ultra Keyboard.

They give you the ability to tweak to your heart’s desire. Adjustable keyboard size? no problemo!. Customizable toolbar? They have you covered!

Multiple Language Support

If you are multilingual, you would appreciate a keyboard app that speaks your tongue(s).

Usually, there are downloable “language packs” for the different supported languages. That way, you avoid bloat by downloading the packs that interest you only.

Those are some of the features that you may want to consider when choosing your keyboard.

To see the significance of a great predictive keyboard, type on a Tablet with a keyboard like Hackers’ Keyboard,  and see the difference.

The keyboard app is the most used third party app on any modern mobile device. For this reason, only the best is good enough.

What other features should we look out for?

4 thoughts on “What Features Do You Look For In A Keyboard App?

  1. Ability to define shortcuts is to me the most essential feature on any keyboard. I think that’s one good reason why the BB physical keyboard still rocks till today, cosmetics and multi languae support are probably just gimmicks, who types in haus
    a or Yoruba anway?

  2. A well written piece by an adept Android bender. I wonder when I would be able to “bend” Android as well as he does?!

    I used to like Swift. But there were some inconsistencies that l noticed that naturally drove me away from it. It stubbornly refuses to learn some new words. The space bar is too narrow, so I often times type “full stop”, when all I needed was to press the spspsce bar. The auto-correct also exasperates me, and almost literally drove me insane once.

    Another shortcoming is that it does not support handwriting recognition.

    My Best is keyboard app for Android is SwiftKey Flow so far. There’s no perfect keyboard app, but in my opinion, it comes close to perfection and typifies what I’ve come to enjoy in an Android keyboard. That said, i still miss my iOS one, but the problem there is that you are left with no option but the default one Apple gives you. With my sojourn in the waters of ANDROID, I’m getting spoilt with the amount of choice available. Even then, the iOS keyboard often gets the work done and just simply works.

    Like the Oracle said in the Matrix; you already know what you want. The problem is choice. You can’t see past the choice that you do not understand. And Swiftkey Flow is the choice I made on Android. So far.

  3. You did a great job there. And you have all the core features adequately covered. Maybe, the features that you didn’t touch are those of navigation and edit keys, and maybe to a lesser extent, voice input and handwriting recognition feature. And yes, symbol, number pad and even smileys are also increasingly making it into keyboards these days.

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