Apple iPhone users have been pecking away at their mobile keyboards for years. But with the release of iOS 8, many were quick to download Nuance Communications’ Swype keyboard, a utility that Android users have had for years.
Swype lets users input text onto a device using a “swiping” motion. It has been around since 2008, but was absent from the Apple ecosystem until the release of iOS 8. That was due in part to Apple’s previous policies, which prevented third-party keyboards from making their way onto iOS. But demand for Swype was clearly there, as evidenced by Apple’s App Store sales charts.
When Swype for iOS 8 was launched on Sept. 17, the keyboard took the number one spot for top paid app in the App Store and held that position for over three weeks, beating out the likes of Minecraft and other popular apps. Though it no longer holds the number one spot, it still sat comfortably at number two as of Oct. 8.
Nuance claims Swype is in use on 1 billion devices worldwide. It was launched in 2008.
“IOS 8 has seen the fastest adoption of Swype than any platform we’ve ever launched on,” Nuance vice president of mobile product Aaron Sheedy said. Though Sheedy declined to share specifics on Swype’s sales on iOS 8, Nuance still has much to brag about.
Nuance Communications, which acquired Swype in 2011 for $102.5 million, has a number of speech recognition and dictation products, including its popular Dragon Dictation software. The company also provides image-sharing solutions to the health care industry and businesses.
With the release of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus -- some believe Apple is planning to ship 200 million units of the new phones -- Swype’s user base may be in for a growth spurt. That number also doesn’t take into account the millions of users who chose to stay with their 4S, 5, 5S or 5C devices, who may now install Swype.
Of the users that have access to Swype, 30 to 40 percent use Nuance’s keyboard as their primary input method. That percentage is even higher among Dutch users at 50 percent, according to Nuance.
With such high adoption rates, Nuance’s $100 million purchase of Swype in 2011 may just pay off, eventually. Nuance posted a loss of $54.2 million in the last quarter ending on June 30, compared with a $35 million loss in the same quarter last year. Analysts are looking for improvement in Nuance’s mobile and consumer division, where revenue fell 1.6 percent to $109.2 million due to weak software sales. Swype sales on iOS could help reverse that trend.
"I think unless Swype is enforced as the only option for keyboard entry on iOS, a true revolution will not occur," Mina Kim, director of user experience at design consultancy Adjacent to One, said. "There are some powerful settings for Swype -- like keyboard resizing and placement -- that would augment the larger iPhone experience, but today are only available for Android. I could see value-adds like these driving more adoption of the Swype paradigm."
If Swype’s popularity proves profitable in iOS 8, it would be a welcome payback for Nuance, which has integrated some of its dictation and word database technologies with the keyboard on a number of other device ecosystems such as Google Android. These technologies include Dragon voice recognition, along with Living Language, an opt-in crowd sourcing tool that updates the Swype keyboard dictionary in real-time based of trending words.
But these “connected” features haven’t made their way onto iOS 8 just yet, due to privacy concerns. “Right now in iOS we’re protecting that by not requiring users to give full access to their devices," Sheedy said. “We intentionally did that. The keyboard is fully contained and it does not function as a connected service.”
Sheedy maintains that any words sent to Nuance servers are fully encrypted and that the company doesn’t track sensitive data such as long strings of numbers or credit-card details. Privacy concerns aside, Swype is proving to be a popular app in iOS 8, ranking in the top 10 apps in 17 countries and top 100 apps in 56 countries according to App Annie.
But don’t expect Swype to replace standard mobile keyboards entirely for now. “There can't be a hard stop to the hunt-and-peck just yet,” Kim said. “My own mother, who is currently chomping at the bit for an iPhone 6 Plus, won't be able to learn how to Swype in this lifetime.”