Typewise Keyboard: what’s coming in 2022

February 17, 2022
‍Janis Berneker, Typewise CTO and co-founder tells us what’s in store this year for Typewise keyboard

In spring 2021, Typewise Keyboard app 3.0 was launched. Since then, the number of new features released has slowed down. Why?

Version 3.0 of Typewise keyboard was a major rewrite of our whole autocorrection AI. We massively improved the keyboard and ended up gaining many new users, as well as winning a CES Innovation Award. We also released our text prediction API for developers. But there are three reasons why we weren’t able to release as many features for the keyboard as we’d hoped last year.

Firstly – we had a lot of bug fixing to do. Part of version 3.0 was launching more languages bringing our total to 40. We carried out extensive testing internally, but with so many different languages, it’s just impossible to test every possible scenario. So new bugs were introduced for some languages, which we only discovered later via user feedback.

So we had a lot of bugs to fix, but only a very small team of developers. A lot of our time was spent on fixing these bugs and ensuring the keyboard worked properly on older devices.

Secondly, we had a significant amount of technical debt to fix concerning the ‘rendering logic’ of our keyboard. The rendering logic is how we draw Typewise keyboard on the smartphone screen. Our original approach was an image-based set up. That worked great back in 2015 to get the first ever prototype (which we called WRIO Keyboard back then) launched. But seven years later, that approach is no longer suitable as it makes adding new features very labour intensive and time consuming.

So we had to rip up the original technical foundations of how we rendered the keyboard and spend our time building a better way, which once completed, would enable us to release features much more easily in future.

Like a boss: a rare moment when Janis takes a break from running Typewise

Finally we needed to expand our team and hiring takes time. At the start of 2021, we only had one developer working on Android, and one on iOS but we knew we needed more. As a small start up, myself and my co-founder David Eberle had to spend a considerable amount of our time on the recruitment process.  

To hire just one good person, takes many, many hours: writing and sharing job descriptions, carrying out preliminary reviews of applications, shortlisting candidates, interviewing them, shortlisting again, setting tasks, checking tasks, interviewing again, etc.  

In short, in order to be able to release new features and build a sustainable development pipeline for the keyboard, we had to go back to the drawing board and do several other things first.

The good news from all of this is: we have fixed the vast majority of bugs, we have almost finished the rendering logic and we now have a larger team of top developers which means better code quality and more frequent releases.  

We are now in a much better position to release new features for the keyboard more quickly and by the start of Q2 2022, we should see a nice, juicy, feature-packed release happening.

Typewise keyboard has won a CES Innovation Award twice

How does Typewise prioritize which new features to add to the keyboard?

As we know from the Typewise feature suggestion area, there are a lot of things users would like to see. Some people complain that their suggestion has been there for a whole two years and yet has “still not been implemented!”. What may not be appreciated by some users is that adding a new feature can be a huge task – taking many weeks or even months of our development resource to build. What appears to be a simple task from the outside can be a very complex task in reality.  

We currently use the Weighted Shortest Job First approach to prioritize what features we should work on first. This framework allows us to evaluate a new piece of work and where it should sit on our roadmap, based on the value of the feature and the amount of work it is to complete.

Some features that people suggest will never be released; we can’t and indeed don’t want to execute every single request we get. We have to balance user demand, against the impact of the feature, and many other things, for example: the happyness of our current users, growth of new users, our conversion rates etc. There are many factors to consider.  

What new features can we expect to see in Q2 this year?

We’re still working on finishing the ‘rendering logic’ but everything is on track for it to be completed at the start of Q2. And with that, we’re finally able to release quite a few new features that our users have been requesting for some time.  

For example, adding a shift key (which allows CAPS LOCK), a delete key (in addition to the delete swipe functionality), a new emoji view and a new special characters layer to make them easier to find.

What about new users – anything for them?

Yes. One of the challenges we know new users face is adapting to our honeycomb keyboard layout and our new gestures. Thousands of people download our keyboard each week, but many of them find the learning curve too much and give up.  

We know from current users that once you adapt to Typewise, you never want to go back to the legacy QWERTY keyboards, but we need to help new users get value more quickly.

So we’ll also be releasing a better onboarding process, a new ‘fast-learn’ layout, and improved tutorial methods. We want more people to benefit from Typewise, faster.  

Note to current users: the current hexagonal layout will not be going away and all new features will be released to all layouts we offer.

Prototype of the new 'fast-learn layout' with shift and delete keys

Looking beyond Q2, what new features can we expect for later in 2022?

There’s a lot on the plan. For example; quicker access to numbers so you don't have to go to the special characters layer (so you’d be able to long press the special characters button then just select the number).

Also – customizable keys. We plan to add two keys that users can customize and choose whatever characters they want.

Emoji search is also on the roadmap. So you can just enter a keyword and the associated emoji will show up, which is quicker than having to scroll through some 4000 emojis to find the one you want.  

Emoji prediction will follow at some point, but probably not in 2022. Our underlying prediction AI already has this functionality (read how we do that here: Emojional Intelligence: 😲 How AI can predict your next emoji) but adding it to the keyboard is a big task so that would come later. We're also working on our text prediction writing assistant for desktop.

Many users have requested Typewise for Russian, Arabic, Persian, Japanese and other languages. Where do they come on the roadmap?

Typewise keyboard is currently available in 40 languages and we want to offer more in future. For this year, we’re prioritizing making the keyboard truly excellent in the languages we already offer, rather than expanding to new ones right now.  

We’re really happy with the progress so far, and we can see from our Google and Apple app store ratings that user satisfaction has grown significantly since last year. But we want to be even better and create a smartphone keyboard that truly ‘wows’ people.  

We want to get to the stage where somebody downloads Typewise keyboard, and they never use another keyboard again. That requires a lot of focus, hence why we don’t plan to expand to more languages quite yet.

How about a copy paste (clipboard) tool for the keyboard?

It’s on the longer term roadmap but not for this year.

Is ‘voice to text’ functionally on the plan?

We’d love to offer voice to text on our keyboard, but it’s a really big task and we’d want to do it properly. It’s already part of the work our AI team do, but in terms of implementing it to the keyboard – it’s not on the 2022 roadmap. It’s something on the longer term list though and we’ll revaluate it again in future.

Some users request ‘swipe’ functionality like SwiftKey; is that on the roadmap?

No. A joint study by The University of Cambridge, Aalto and Zurich ETH concluded that two thumb typing is the fastest typing method for smartphones; significantly faster than swiping. We designed Typewise to be the fastest, easiest smartphone keyboard in the world and already use gesture-based input to speed up certain actions (eg: swipe left to delete; swipe right to restore, swipe up to capitalize). We have no plans to add other ‘swiping’ functionality as Typewise offers an alternative (and superior) method of input. If you want swipe typing use another keyboard.

To delete on Typewise, swipe left. To restore, swipe right.

Backing up or exporting the personal dictionary often gets requested. Where does this sit on our priority list?

We love this idea and it’s something that we would like to add this year. So, it’s on the roadmap but I can't promise it will be completed by the end of the 2022.  

Let’s talk about themes. We know our users love the #HexAppeal of Typewise but they want more! When are fresh keyboard themes coming?

As part of the new rendering logic we have to redesign all the themes and we’ll also be adding some new ones. The new logic will make the addition of new themes much easier in future and also customizable. So by the end of the year users should not only have a larger selection of pre-made themes to choose from, but also the ability to customize their keyboards by creating their own themes.

Final words?

On behalf of the development team I’d like to say a big thanks to all users of Typewise keyboard, especially those in our beta testing groups and those who tirelessly provide feedback in our iOS and Android telegram channels. We really, really appreciate it!  

I know there’s been some frustration with the time it’s taken us to release more features, but I hope this interview explains the reasons behind that, and shows what we’ve done to improve the situation. We’re very excited about 2022 and all the new features we’re working on - thanks for your continued support!