A eulogy for a mobile keyboard pioneer

Swype hasn’t been spectacular in a long time, but its impact on Android and mobile typing in general is undeniable.

Dearly beloved, we gather here today to celebrate the life and honor the memory of an Android pioneer whose impact on mobile technology is still felt by all of us today.

Swype, the keyboard app that introduced swipe-to-type input to the masses with its once-unmatched Android text input system, passed away quietly in its sleep on Monday. The app’s health had been in steady decline for some years, and its adoptive father, Nuance, has now confirmed it has been taken off life support and will no longer be developed.

Swype, born in 2009, was one of the first third-party keyboards to gain massive success on the Android platform. Back in the days of the original Motorola Droid, it was a near-mythical creation — a keyboard that encouraged you to type without even lifting your finger?! — and for a long time, it was also vexingly difficult to find.

In 2010, a young and incredibly handsome tech columnist captured the mood of the era by pointing out the “weird sort of paradox” that “one of the most popular apps for Android [was] also one of the hardest to get.” His words now serve as a lasting reminder of just how novel and unusual the swipe-to-type notion seemed in its early years:

Swype replaces your Android phone’s on-screen keyboard with a slightly strange-sounding alternative: Rather than tapping keys individually, you slide your finger around your screen — without ever lifting it — to input the words you want. According to Swype’s creators, this unique method of typing allows you to input text 30 percent faster than you could with a standard smartphone keyboard.

At that moment, when Froyo was still the most common Android version and Gingerbread was a fresh-out-of-the-oven delicacy, Swype had the Android world in a frenzy with its decision to accept a small number of new beta testers into its limited circle of approved users. A select few devices had the app preloaded by default, but everyone else was left to watch from the outside with envy (or, as was perhaps more common among the Android enthusiast community, to scour the various forums and find an unofficially released APK to sideload onto their unlocked Nexus S phones).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *