SwiftKey – The App I can’t live without!

Hello again, I’m posting here after about¬†a month. You know, I have some real issues up with punctuality, but no matter how late an article gets, one thing that never gets compromised is QUALITY. I put every effort to make sure I write the best quality of an article I ever possibly could. With that said, enjoy this week’s article about a special app that’s super close to my heart. This is a tribute-cum-review of the app. Read on…

SwiftKey, as most of you might be knowing is a keyboard for Android (and recently iOS, after Apple Inc lifted restrictions on 3rd party apps) made by SwiftKey Inc, a London based startup which got recently acquired by Microsoft for $250M.

I started using SwiftKey since my Samsung Galaxy Y days because the default Samsung keyboard that came pre-installed with the device was a big pile of… you get it. It was really bad, buggy and inaccurate.

Although SwiftKey was quite resource intensive, I still continued using it because it offered way more features and it’s auto-correct was spot on, 99% of the times. The small reduction in my (low-specced) phone’s performance was a trade-off I was more than willing to make. People were amazed at my ability to type out responses quickly, they hailed my fingers, little did they know the backbone behind my quick response time. ūüėČ

Anyway, then in 2014 I jumped onto the Motorola bandwagon and got myself a Moto G (2nd Gen.)[still my current phone]. SwiftKey ran as smoothly as butter. Bigger screen meant more real estate to type, which meant fewer mistakes on my own, so the autocorrect feature was used a little less than on my previous phone.

The best part about SwiftKey is its machine learning algorithm and its dictionary.¬†SwiftKey’s quick to learn the words I use frequently in my conversations and the prediction bar on top of the keyboard loads up the words accordingly. The most shocking part was when the¬†SwiftKey ML changed a bunch of words a few weeks after my relationship ended. The most used words during it¬†was, “baby”, “love” and things on that end of the spectrum. But, a few weeks later, as I started using those words less (for obvious reasons), the predicted words also changed to reflect my new list of frequently used words. It is a small thing, but small things like these blow your mind.

SwiftKey also predicts words according to the app I’m in. For example, say if I’m in an IM app, the first predicted word would be “hello” or “hey”. And, if I open my browser and go to say Google, the predictions change automatically. (And, in that case, the first predicted word is ‘How’ and ‘How to’, since I mostly use the internet for learning how to do things, even mundane ones.)

Also, who can forget, the SwiftKey Flow. Flow is the Swype for SwiftKey.¬†SwiftKey didn’t invent the flow method of input, but coupled with its ML and clever algorithms, it’s nearly flawless in predicting my inputs. In fact, I’ve actually forgotten how to tap-type. I’m a¬†SwiftKey flow junkie.

Apart from all these, you can also super customize the¬†keyboard to match your preference. There are a bunch of themes available offline and more can be downloaded from the newly launched¬†SwiftKey store. Themes are mostly free, although paid ones are also available. I don’t see the point of purchasing a themes when there are already tons of free themes available, since they add zero functionality to the overall experience. I’m the function over form, guy and that’s just me. Anyway, I’m just referring to the business model, not the themes themselves. Sorry if I hurt you, paid themes. ūüė¶

Speaking of customizability,¬†SwiftKey is customizable not just with themes, but with a lot of other things as well. For example, long press duration. Being a teenager and having played tons of games, my reflexes are pretty quick compared to say my grandfather’s. So, I hate waiting even a millisecond more (quite literally) while typing on my device. Changing the longpress duration from 400ms to my current 200ms makes a hell lot of difference to the overall typing experience. That 200ms saved compounds up overtime and makes a visible difference. Little things, little things like these make a product successful. SwiftKey knows that.

And, after installing SwiftKey, you can login using your Google Account to give SwiftKey permission to read and learn from all of your emails, text messages (SMS) etc. to aid in better predictions. It’s quite a useful feature, especially for new users who don’t want their keyboard to spend a bunch of time adapting to their typing. Neat.

I haven’t even talked about language options yet. I primarily use English (India) and have English (US) as my secondary. There are also a bunch of other language options like Hinglish (Hindi typed in English) and tons of regional languages. You can also wire up more than one language simultaneously. Super neat.

Finally, SwiftKey also has a statcounter which tracks your usage and also gives out a typing heatmap that shows your most stroked keys and the location of your finger landing. Really neat.

The last time I checked (a few second back), my stats looked something like this.

  • 29% more efficient.
  • 218, 394 taps saved.
  • 23, 069 words predicted.
  • 32, 181 words completed.
  • 352, 274 words flowed.
  • And… wait for it… 25021.39 METERS FLOWED.

Like, heck. I’ve flowed over 25 kilometers across my screen over the course of the past two years while using¬†SwiftKey. If that’s not mindblowing, I don’t know what is.

My heatmap looks something like this:

My typing heatmap on SwiftKey. © Sheky Rambles
My typing heatmap on SwiftKey. © Sheky Rambles

And my stats for proof (:p):

My SwiftKey stats. © Sheky Rambles
My typing heatmap on SwiftKey. © Sheky Rambles

Final Word

So, yes¬†SwiftKey has been such a useful app for me and it won’t be an overstatement to say that it’s made me twice as productive (typing wise) than before using it. I can’t even begin to imagine using any other keyboard and also what all of those saved keystrokes would have done to my poor fingers if not for¬†SwiftKey.

So, if it’s not already clear, I HIGHLY recommend using¬†SwiftKey to replace your current default keyboard. It’ll be nothing short of an upgrade to your smartphone typing experience.

Thanks for reading, catch you next week.

 

The Shallows – Review

Finally, here I am posting the review of the book I finished reading a couple of weeks ago, now that I’ve finally got some breather space.

The Internet, in just a couple of decades has become THE most powerful tool for nearly everything, be it ordering stuff online, or starting a political revolution or even completing a degree online (apart from the obvious like staying in touch, looking up information, satisfying unmet personal needs).

And, parallel to the development of the Internet, people from the other side of the spectrum, the Neuroscientists and Brain Specialists made an astonishing discovery about our brains. They found, through their extensive experiments and research that Human brain structure was not fixed, but was incredibly “plastic”, and they called it, Neuroplasticity. They concluded that society’s conventional way of seeing brains of people as something of fixed was completely wrong.¬†Brains can change and they change quickly. How they change and what their structure turns into though depends completely on how you use it.

Now, one can think of the internet as a giant brain in itself with its massive memory capacity ands trillions of interconnections, transferring petabytes of data every second.

So, what happens when The Internet meets our extremely plasticky Brain?

A lot, according to Nicholas Carr, a well known tech writer. In his book, aptly named, “The Shallows”, he talks about how *excessive* internet use (which is becoming a necessity in today’s always on world) is impacting our extremely plastic brain.

The book starts off with the super famous penultimate scene in the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The conversation between HAL 9000 and Dave. Then, the author starts off on a personal note by describing his own experiences with the Internet and how his habits have been impacted by his internet use. The author also cites some recent experiments which show how hyperlinks on a webpage distract the readers from reading the actual content.

The author makes some fine arguments in the book, such as how the Internet, because of it’s rapid fire delivery nature, encourages shallow thinking and skimming, instead of the more calmer deep reading. The author describes his own experience of how he was once an avid fan of deep reading and how now his incessant use of the internet has eroded his attention span. To quote him:

Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

The book is a fascinating read. It starts off by referencing Martin McLuhan, a 20th  century media whiz (theorist), who predicted a lot of things about media, including the internet, way back in 1960s. The author argues how, given enough time, the medium itself becomes the message, impacting nearly every aspect of our thinking.

The book then delves deeper into the history of the mind and its tools, starting with the first idea of writing, as an extension of the brain, the Gutenberg revolution and through the period of renaissance and awakening. Includes the insights of great thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Socrates all the way to Marshall McLuhan.

The author argues how the book encourages us to¬†read deeply¬†and how the internet is shredding the very fabric of our depth by constantly bombarding us with one distraction after another. The author argues that the¬†¬†world’s finest thinkers, revolutionaries and artists across history were people who had the capacity to think deeply through a problem, often locking their minds onto a single problem and going into a mode of depth where solutions are abound.

 

According to the author, the excessive use of the internet is also harming our ability to remember things for long. Our memory works in 2 modes, short and long term memory. For content to get transferred from short to long term memory (by the process called “Memory consolidation“), the brain needs some downtime. A time away from distractions of all sorts, the state of reflecting on something, which unfortunately our hyperconnected Internet world doesn’t provide.

In the last few pages, he writes about the current technological trend, on companies like Google and Amazon (specifically the Kindle eBook reader.) et cetera.

And, by the end of the book, it is clear how the author tries to bring about a sharp contrast between reading a book (often deeply) and using the Internet (often shallowly).

Overall, it is a pretty good read and is highly insightful. A highly recommended read for people who are curious about what goes on in the inside of their heads as they follow one hyperlink after another.

Feature image source: http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/files/import/116529-SHALLOWS.JPG

Next up is the review of Deep Work, by Cal Newport.