Microsoft's One-Handed Word Flow Keyboard Arrives on iOS

By Pedro Hernandez  |  Posted 2016-04-25 Print this article Print
Microsoft Word Flow Keyboard

Borrowing from Windows Phone, Microsoft releases its Word Flow keyboard for Apple iOS devices.

Windows Phone may have gone largely unloved by the masses for a variety of reasons, but its Word Flow keyboard isn't among them.

Starting today, iPhone users can take the innovative, one-handed keyboard for a spin. Microsoft Garage, the software giant's experimental app unit, released Word Flow on the Apple App store for iOS devices (iOS 9.0 and above) today. So far, the app has garnered a 4.5-star rating and has been branded an Editor's Choice by Apple. The catch is that Word Flow is currently only available in U.S. English.

Word Flow, originally released in 2014 as part of Windows Phone 8.1, uses "shape writing" technology to speed up text input on touch-screen devices. Using swiping motions between keys, Word Flow's prediction engine generates words in context with a conversation or document.

Using Word Flow, smartphone owners don't have to lift their thumbs to complete a word, saving time. (Of course, the traditional method of hunting and pecking for individual letters is also supported.) The keyboard helped Microsoft earn a Guinness World Record for the fastest text message using a touch-screen phone in 2014.

Speedy text messages aside, Word Flow is also known for its one-handed operation. The on-screen keyboard's Arc Mode arranges letters along a curve, enabling users to reach all the keys with their right or left thumbs. The keyboard also supports customizable background images and themes.

Word Flow for iOS arrives just months after Microsoft announced it had acquired SwiftKey and its popular predictive keyboard apps for iOS and Android. The SwiftKey app and its software development kit "powers more than 300 million Android and iOS devices," Harry Shum, executive vice president of Microsoft Technology and Research, said in a Feb. 3 announcement.

Like Word Flow, SwiftKey users can swipe between letters to complete words, enabling them to rapidly fire off text messages and emails. "SwiftKey estimates that its users have saved nearly 10 trillion keystrokes, across 100 languages, saving more than 100,000 years in combined typing time," Shum added. Microsoft is currently working on integrating SwiftKey technology with Word Flow.

In February, Microsoft released the Hub Keyboard for Android phones. Billed as a keyboard for multitaskers, particularly those that have settled on the company's mobile Office ecosystem, the Hub Keyboard includes built-in translation, search, clipboard and document-sharing tools. The iOS version of the app was released on April 7.

Meanwhile, Word Flow's original home appears to be teetering on the brink of ruin.

Microsoft is clearing its inventory of its slow-selling, Windows-based Lumia smartphones with a new promotion. The company is currently offering smartphone shoppers its Microsoft's flagship phone, the Lumia 950 XL, for $650 unlocked along with an unlocked Lumia 950 smartphone for free.

Last year, Windows Phone shipments totaled 29.5 million units, down 18 percent from 2014 levels, according to a recent report from the analysts at IDC. By comparison, Apple shipped a record-breaking 231.5 million iPhones in 2015.


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