October 2018 Issue  Volume 19  Number 10

Product Reviews and Guides

Faster Typing on iOS with the FlickType Keyboard: An Evaluation and Overview

When I first began to use a smartphone, I found that the most cumbersome aspect was the touchscreen keyboard. Finding the correct key is fairly simple, but the delay as you wait to hear the name of the focused key adds a surprising amount of time to the act of typing. In addition, the keys are quite tiny, so it's fairly easy to accidentally press the key next to your intended key when lifting off the keyboard to enter a character, particularly on smaller devices such as the iPod touch or iPhone SE.

There are several methods for entering text more easily on an iOS device. One of these is the dictation button on the touchscreen keyboard, though there are many circumstances in which this cannot be used, such as when you don't have an Internet connection or when you're in a loud, or quiet, environment. The Speeddots screen overlay provides raised braille-like dots for each keyboard key accept for the "F" and "J" keys. I use this overlay to this day; it has significantly increased my touch-typing speed. The downside to this option is that the tactile markings for the keyboard are always present, which may be distracting to some users. Another third-party option for increasing typing speed on iOS is the FlickType keyboard, an app and system keyboard that uses advanced algorithms to determine what characters you have typed.

The Fleksy keyboard began with a similar concept, but has over recent years become rather complex. When I learned that FlickType was aiming to return to the roots of Fleksy and provide an efficient and focused typing experience for those with vision loss, I was interested in giving it a try. I've been using FlickType as a system-wide keyboard so that I can provide AccessWorld readers information on how FlickType works in everyday, real-world situations. In addition, I will explore both the FlickType app and the mechanics of the keyboard itself.

The FlickType App

FlickType can be used in two ways, as a stand-alone app or as system-wide keyboard. For both methods of access, you will need the FlickType Keyboard app. Like many iOS apps you may be familiar with, the FlickType app uses a tabbed interface with tabs arranged along the bottom of the screen. When you launch the FlickType app, you will be placed in the Welcome tab. Here, you can find information on how to use the keyboard as well as the steps needed for using FlickType as a system keyboard. You also have access to a menu containing help files, frequently asked questions, media appearances, Twitter info, and information about the developers.

The second tab from left to right is Upgrade. This tab provides basic information about upgrading so that you can use FlickType system-wide. Information on pricing is also available here.

The tab to the right of Upgrade is labeled Demo. You use the FlickType keyboard here, and copy or export what you have typed.

Next you will find the Settings tab where you can adjust various aspects of the FlickType keyboard. The final tab is Dictionary and contains all of the words that FlickType has learned from your typing. You can manually add words, which is useful for names and places, or FlickType will automatically learn them if you use manual typing in the FlickType keyboard.

Typing with FlickType

As mentioned previously, FlickType uses an algorithm to determine what you have typed. When typing, you simply tap the screen where you believe a key would be and based on your position and the number of characters you have typed, FlickType will guess what word you intended to enter. To finalize the word, flick right with one finger, whereupon VoiceOver will speak the word entered. You can flick left to delete the word and type again, or flick up and down with one finger to cycle between suggestions. Note that FlickType gestures will supersede VoiceOver gestures, you will need to either touch elsewhere on the screen (if using half screen or minimal mode) or dismiss or change the keyboard (in full screen mode) to use VoiceOver gestures. If you are typing and make a mistake, you can flick left to clear the currently entered taps and start again. To enter punctuation, you can flick right without typing which will enter a ".". From here, you can flick up and down for emojis and other punctuation symbols. In addition, you can flick right and hold for a moment to press the Enter/Return key.

If you need to type something not recognized by FlickType, you can type on the FlickType keyboard as you would when using traditional touch-typing on the default iOS keyboard. To begin touch-typing, touch the screen with one finger without lifting. After a quarter of a second or so, you will hear the name of the letter under your finger. Touch-typing will be in effect until you complete the word you began typing in this way. Take note that if you are typing a word and begin touch-typing in the middle, FlickType will attempt to guess at what you typed using the characters entered to that point and start a new word using touch-typing.

FlickType also includes various gestures for navigating and reading entered content or changing from one keyboard to another. It is possible to navigate a text field by word. To move forward, flick right with two fingers and to move backward, flick left with two fingers. Using three fingers will move by sentence. As before, swiping right moves forward and left backwards. If you would like to capitalize a word, touch the screen once with two fingers (the gesture for pausing VoiceOver feedback) and the first character you type will be capitalized. If you would like to capitalize all characters in a word, you will need to use touch-typing, touching with two fingers to enter upper case for each character entered. If you double-tap with two fingers (VoiceOver's Magic Tap) you can switch from the letter keyboard to the number/symbol keyboard. From my tests, it appears that you must use touch-typing to enter characters from this keyboard instead of the traditional algorithmic typing used when entering letters; this keyboard looks identical to the iOS standard numbers keyboard.

If you would like to listen to everything currently typed in any given edit field, you can touch and hold with two fingers on the screen. If you are using FlickType system-wide, swipe up with one figner and hold for a moment to cycle to the next system keyboard. If you would like to dismiss the keyboard, swipe down and hold using one finger. I found that when using the gesture for cycling keyboards, often iOS thought I was trying to bring up the Control Center. Dismissing the keyboard did not cause this issue with the Notifications Center.

FlickType Demo Tab and System Wide Keyboard

As mentioned, you can use FlickType either through the app or as a system-wide keyboard. Using the Demo tab in the FlickType app is free and includes all features found in the system-wide keyboard. If you would like to use the app for entering text into other apps, you can copy entered text using a Share button at the top of the screen, or activate an option from the Settings tab that will automatically copy and clear text entered in the field when exiting the app. From what I can tell, all methods you could use to exit the app will trigger this function, from using the Home button to cycling with a four-finger flick right to cycle apps.

To use FlickType as a system-wide keyboard, you must first subscribe using the Upgrade tab in the app. When you first upgrade, you will be able to use the keyboard free for 7 days, after this period the charge is $0.99 per month or $11.99 per year. Note that I found that after the 7-day free trial, I needed to return to the Upgrade tab and provide access before I could use the keyboard system-wide.

After upgrading, you will first need to visit the FlickType settings in the native iOS Settings app to grant full access. Once granted, you will be able to use FlickType from the Next Keyboard button. The keyboard can be used anywhere the system keyboard can and from what I can determine, it can be used for all tasks across iOS. For example, if you are in a Web browser's address bar, the Go button will replace the Return button on the touch keyboard and as the function of flicking right and holding.

FlickType Settings

The Settings tab lies to the right of the Demo tab and will allow you to customize various aspects of FlickType. The following are the options that can be altered here. First, you can choose the keyboard size as well as the color theme for the keyboard. Sizes include full screen, half screen, and minimal, which appears to be the size of the traditional iOS keyboard. Themes come in a range of colors from black to magenta to yellow. Following these, you will find a series of switch buttons which will allow you to customize what keys appear on the FlickType keyboard if you are exploring the keyboard manually. You can choose to include the Spacebar, Next Keyboard key, and the Dismiss key. Note that all of these functions are also available using gestures.

Below the keyboard button toggles, you will find an edit field where you can add emojis that you can select from FlickType when typing. A few are already entered, but you can use the Emoji keyboard to add others to the text field and they will be added to the list of emojis available in FlickType. Following, you will find settings related to the feedback that FlickType provides to you. The first several here will apply to the sounds you hear. You can select the sound played when entering a character; the volume of the entered character sound; if you want sounds to be played from the left or right of the stereo field when touching on the left or right of the keyboard; and if you want sounds to play when you touch the keyboard or when you lift your finger. Note that if you have sounds set to Unduckable, they will not play from different points of the stereo field.

After the settings regarding sound feedback, you will be able to choose what spoken feedback FlickType provides to you. You can choose to receive spelling feedback, Phonetic feedback, and to have characters spoken when typed.

After these feedback options, you will have the option to make FlickType sounds unduckable ("ducking" refers to a screen reader lowering other sounds being played when speaking) in case of audio issues. Unduckable is the default selection for this item. I found this necessary as when selecting Customizable, typing feedback only sounded from one side of the audio field. After this option, you will find a toggle for voice feedback as well as visual feedback of what is typed.

Next, you will find a toggle that allows text replacements, such as automatically replacing "TTYL" with "talk to you later." If you allow these in FlickType, you must set up replacements through the iOS Settings app. Next you will find settings relating to the Demo screen. You can toggle the Copy and Clear on Exit item as well as if you want the text entered to be read aloud when you raise your phone to your ear.

Finally, you will find the Other section containing miscellaneous settings. Here, you can select your language, determine if keyboard keys are always visually shown when using the keyboard, toggle the use of the gestures that use multiple fingers, the presence of a blinking cursor, and toggle the use of an almost full screen mode. This option is present as a fix when apps crash while using FlickType in full screen mode.

Real World use of FlickType

Now that we have explored how FlickType operates, let's look at how well it works in practice. As a fairly proficient touch typist, I found getting used to the FlickType keyboard a fairly simple process. I was surprised at the accuracy of the keyboard. To avoid triggering touch-typing mode, I type exaggeratedly and have noticed an accuracy rate around 75 to 80 percent overall. Accuracy is much higher with longer words, and finding the word I wanted as the second or third suggestion brings accuracy up to around 95 percent.

I have also found the other gestures, such as flicking and holding for dismissing the keyboard, fluid and accurate. In addition, the only bug I have encountered is that the keyboard will crash if you attempt to compose a word consisting of over 20 characters. Unless you live in the Welsh village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, most users will most likely not encounter this issue.

I have appreciated the wide range of customization options available as changing certain settings has significantly improved my use of the keyboard. I find that I prefer the full screen mode so that I can type more exaggeratedly; the fact that I can easily dismiss or switch keyboards overrides the possible downside of using this mode. In addition, I found that the more instant feedback provided by "tap feedback on touch down" sped up my typing.

As long as FlickType predicts what I have typed correctly, I find it increases the speed of my typing around 30 percent or so based on a rough estimate. This can decrease significantly if a word is not in the first few suggestions. That being said, FlickType is much more fluid to use than the default keyboard and I have found the gestures becoming second nature. It is important to note that this amount of improvement is when typing on my preferred device size (iPhone SE/5S) and when using a tactile screen protector. Compared to my speed on tablets or devices without a tactile overlay, the increase in speed exceeds 50 percent.

I have been using FlickType on a daily basis for around three weeks at the time of this writing and was able to begin fluidly using FlickType on the first day with improvements in speed following quickly over the first week or two. I still cannot approach the speed that I can achieve with dictation or a physical keyboard but I believe that with regular use, my speed could increase further.

If you are someone who finds typing difficult, I would highly recommend giving FlickType a try. The algorithm is surprisingly forgiving and if you are comfortable with basic gestures, such as single finger flicks, you should find it quite helpful. If you find that your typing is already quite efficient on iOS, FlickType may not provide as much of a benefit. Since using the keyboard in the app is free, I would recommend giving it a try as you may be surprised by how helpful it can be.

Developer Comments

We love to hear from FlickType users, no suggestion or question is too large or small! You can reach us at any time at hello@flicktype.com.

Product Information

Product: FlickType Keyboard
Developer: Kpaw, LLC
Price: Free for in-app keyboard; $0.99 per month for system-wide keyboard

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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