Faster Typing with FlickType for iOS

Posted by Karl Belanger | 09/05/2018 | Access Technology
Woman outside holding iPhone.

Whether texting a friend, taking notes, or writing a longer email, typing on an iPhone has always been a little slow for many people. Apple has tried to make things smoother with the introduction of things like touch typing and Braille Screen Input, but longer writing on the iPhone is typically avoided.

The introduction of third-party keyboards has provided the opportunity for alternate input methods and additional features, but there have been very few keyboards that really do anything innovative with on-screen input.

FlickType, however, is a third-party keyboard which does a very good job at speeding up text entry, and is fast becoming my favorite keyboard on iOS.

FlickType works by registering where on the keyboard you are tapping, not necessarily exactly which letters are being hit, and then uses various algorithms to predict the intended word. This allows you to type quickly and, as long as you are in the right general area for the word you intended, the app will usually get it right.

Some of you may be thinking that this concept is not new, and you’d be right. A keyboard called Fleksy, which started as a keyboard for the blind but has become much less accessible, has been doing this for a while now.

If you want to jump straight into using FlickType, please skip to the “Setting Up FlickType” section. For a little history of how FlickType came about, keep reading.

From Fleksy to FlickType

In 2012, a new app called Fleksy promised faster typing on iOS. The blind community quickly grabbed onto it and it became very popular on sites like AppleVis. As this was in the days before third-party system-wide keyboards, the app was limited to typing in a notepad and then sharing to mail, messages, Twitter, etc., or copying to the clipboard. Over the next year, the app continued to be upgraded with new features and refinements. However, in the beginning of 2014, Fleksy announced they were releasing Fleksy VO to maintain accessibility as the new version had some issues. A lot of people were not very pleased about this, and while the core Fleksy app did improve its accessibility, things were never quite the same. Fleksy transitioned into a mainstream keyboard, and while the core typing experience remained mostly usable, the extra added features had varying amounts of accessibility issues. Once Fleksy was acquired by Pinterest, Fleksy VO was pulled from the App Store and open sourced. The blind community largely left Fleksy after this point.

FlickType Brings Things Back to Basics

In March, a forum post on AppleVis announced that a new app called FlickType was under development, utilizing the open-sourced Fleksy VO code. This promised to revive the same style of keyboard as Fleksy, but with a simplified accessible interface. They recruited beta testers from the community and quickly grew in popularity. FlickType launched its first beta in a similar style to the old Fleksy, with a simple notepad and various export options. This beta, and the initial public app that soon followed, allowed FlickType to refine the typing experience. Once the initial app made it into the store, they quickly followed up with a beta of a system keyboard. FlickType is now available as a full third-party keyboard usable in any app. It even has features like custom dictionaries, support for iOS text expansions, and basic emoji support. It is available for free in the App Store, with system keyboard support costing $0.99 per month.

Setting Up FlickType

When FlickType is first installed, launching the app puts you on a welcome screen which gives basic instructions. Along the bottom of the screen are five tabs.

  • Welcome (basic instructions for using FlickType)
  • Demo (simple notepad with export options where you can get familiar with the keyboard)
  • Upgrade (buy a subscription)
  • Settings (adjust various FlickType options)
  • Dictionary (add or remove words from the custom user dictionary)

In order to use the system-wide keyboard, you must have either a free trial or paid subscription (otherwise you can only type inside the demo tab of the app).

To enable the FlickType keyboard in iOS, go to Settings, General, Keyboard, Keyboards, and then Add New Keyboard. Find FlickType in the list and select it. Once FlickType is added, select it again and enable “Full Access” which will let the keyboard work properly. You will receive a generic message about the developer potentially having access to everything you type, which FlickType does not do. This message shows up for all third-party keyboards. Once FlickType is added and full access is enabled, you are ready to type.

Using FlickType

Once you begin editing a text field, there will be a “next keyboard” button in the lower left of the keyboard. Once the FlickType keyboard is selected, you are placed in a full-screen qwerty keyboard.

FlickType works differently than other mobile keyboards. Rather than looking for and entering each letter individually, you simply tap roughly where the letters would be on another keyboard.

Let’s say you wanted to type the word “blind.” Normally, you would move your finger around until you heard the letter B, then lift your finger to enter the letter, then find L, then I, and so on. With FlickType, just tap in the general area of the letters. As you type, you will hear clicks, but no letters announced. This is because FlickType does not show the letters until you complete the word. So for the word “blind,” approximate where the letters would be. FlickType then uses various methods to infer that the letters you typed based on their position and the number of letters is most likely the word “blind.” You may have actually typed N J P M S, but since there are five letters and they are all close to the letters for “blind,” FlickType will offer that word as the suggestion.

Once you are done typing a word, flick right with one finger, and FlickType will present the word it thinks you most likely typed. If the word is right, simply start typing the next word. If you are looking for a different word, flick down and you will move through a series of other potential suggestions. To continue our example, if you were a little less accurate when typing “blind,” FlickType might think you wanted the word “climb.” Just flick down until you hear “blind.”

Generally, the more letters in the word, and the more accurate you are, the better FlickType can predict the word you want. I find it is least accurate when typing two-letter words like if, of, it, in, and on, as they are all very close to each other. Once you get to four letter words or more it is almost always spot on.

If you want to insert punctuation, such as at the end of a sentence, flick right again with one finger, then flick down to choose the punctuation mark you want. Words will automatically be capitalized at the beginning of a sentence. You can flick left to delete any of your mistakes and flicking right and holding will start a new line or submit the field depending on what control you are in. There are more gestures for moving around the text you are editing which you can read in the FlickType guide.

If you need to type a web or email address, a proper name, or any word that is not in FlickType’s dictionary, you can type the word manually. FlickType manual typing works exactly like the standard iOS keyboard with a couple handy features. You can single tap with two fingers to toggle shift without needing to go and hit the actual key, and double tapping with two fingers will toggle between the standard and numbers keyboard. Otherwise, for VoiceOver users, manual typing works exactly like using the iOS keyboard in touch typing mode. Again, flick right once you’ve finished typing, and the word will be announced, and it will be added to the dictionary for next time.

Speaking of the dictionary, the tab in the FlickType app will show all the words you have manually typed. This enables you to manually type something once, and then be able to type it normally from there on out. Additionally, if you have set up text expansions in iOS settings, FlickType will allow you to automatically enter them when you type them.

Conclusion

FlickType has a lot of potential as a solid third-party keyboard for iOS. It is a stable keyboard as is, and it’s still under active development. Recently, they added limited emoji support, and are currently working on a half-screen version that will allow interaction with the text field using normal iOS gestures. Personally, I find FlickType to be a much faster experience than the standard iOS keyboard, and I find myself using it for anything longer than a basic search or web address. You can try it out for yourself by downloading FlickType from the App Store.

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