Users of iOS 8 no longer have to be happy with just the default Apple keyboard. Developers are now allowed to create keyboards with features Apple that doesn’t provide, and we’ll see a catalog of new keyboards now that iOS 8 is out. Dave Caolo reviewed one earlier today, so the flood of keyboards is starting to appear already. Today I’m going to take a look at Swype.

Now, Android phones have had alternative keyboards for a long time, so Apple is playing a bit of catch-up here. Some established keyboard creators have already had plenty of experience in the world of Android and are now moving to the iOS platform.

First off, why do you need a new keyboard? It’s certainly not a requirement, but let’s see what is on offer with Swype. The app was released today at a special price of US $ 0.99, has been on Android for 5 years and has been eagerly awaited by many iOS users. It’s among the most popular and for good reason. You can use Swype like the standard Apple keyboard, tapping out words letter by letter, or you can swipe your fingers across the keyboard without lifting them (hence the name “Swype”.) The software figures out what you are swiping and the word appears. The keyboard can also learn from experience, and start offering intelligent suggestions. You can also add words to Swype’s dictionary and even create shortcuts.

Punctuation can be gesture-based, and a standard set of marks and corresponding gestures is built in. The keyboard also offers next word predictions, and support for several languages including English, French, Italian, German and Spanish, with more languages coming soon. It should be noted that Apple’s default iOS 8 keyboard now offers a feature called QuickType that also offers predictive typing.

Keyboards also look better than ever, as Swype allows you to choose from any of 5 different themes to customize the keyboard. I think the dark themes are really attractive, and make the white letters and numbers easier to see than the standard Apple keyboard colors.

“The keyboard is perhaps the most used feature on a phone, so it has to be intuitive, fast, and of course, it has to deliver incredibly high accuracy,” said Aaron Sheedy, vice president of mobile solutions for the Mobile Division of Nuance.

So how does it all work? Very well, actually. I’ve been playing with an advance copy for a few days and when you first use the Swype keyboard it can be a bit bewildering. There are some keys you won’t recognize, but once you get started and explore how to use them they’ll become familiar quickly. Swype comes with an app that installs the keyboard and also offers tutorials and tips. Of course, you can use Swype just like the regular Apple keyboard, but the unique features of Swype are sure to tempt you.

One thing missing is the little key with the microphone icon that allows you to dictate text. Apple doesn’t allow third parties to use that extension, a policy I hope will change.

I think once you get used to Swype, it may be hard to go for you to go back to the Apple keyboard. Swype is now one of many keyboard options for iOS users, and we’ll keep an eye on what’s out there to help you choose what’s right for you.

Swype comes from Nuance, the folks that bring us the Dragon family of speech recognition apps. They also developed the technology behind Siri with Apple.

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