SwiftKey, the popular predictive keyboard for Android, is going free today — and not just for a limited time.
The change is part of an update rolling out to the app now, which also includes the launch of a new in-app SwiftKey Store where users can buy themes to customize their keyboards with different colors and looks. The company said that new themes are consistently among the most-requested features by its users.
The store will launch with 48 themes in total — 33 are completely new, while 15 were previously available for free. Those will remain free, and SwiftKey is also throwing in three of the new ones gratis. The rest will range in price from $1.00 for a single theme to $4.99 for the Premier Pack, which includes 10 themes. Previous users of the paid app get the Premier Pack for free as a thank-you for their support.
The themes, which include a retro-style keyboard and one whose colors are very Miami Vice-esque (Crockett and Tubbs would approve), were all created by SwiftKey’s design team. The company hopes to push out new themes as quickly as possible, and is open to working with partners to come up with new themes (think keyboards branded with your favorite NFL team’s logo and colors).
SwiftKey CMO Joe Braidwood also envisions bringing other types of content into the store, like different sounds and different visuals when you glide your finger from key to key.
“This is just version one of the store,” said Braidwood in an interview with Re/code. “Five years ago when we started this, we didn’t know that it would ever be feasible for us to launch a store full of themes. As you go down the journey that is understanding your user base, working with them, listening to them, there are so many opportunities for growth, to become more compelling. It’s going to be really fun.”
Also new to this update is the integration of more than 800 emojis into the keyboard. The app even offers emoji predictions. So, for example, if you start typing “I love you,” it will surface the heart or kissy face emoji depending on which you use more often. By default, this will be turned off, though, as the company wants to provide as consistent an experience as possible for longtime users.
Other enhancements and improvements include the option of a dedicated number key row, more accurate flow gestures, smarter auto capitalization and support for more languages.
The launch of the SwiftKey Store and the move from paid to free mark a new shift in the SwiftKey’s business model. Previously, SwiftKey offered a free one-month trial of its keyboard app, but then users would have to upgrade to the $3.99 premium version to keep using the keyboard, which includes predictive text capabilities, gesture-based typing and backup and syncing of your personal dictionary, among other things.
Braidwood said that of the customers who used the free app, about 20 percent upgraded to the premium version. And the company found that quite a few of those who chose not to did so for peripheral reasons, like being reluctant to enter their credit card information.
“We started thinking, let’s stop kicking those folks out the door. Let’s stop turning them away; let’s embrace them. And that’s particularly significant if you think about the growth opportunity in developing economies,” said Braidwood. “Android is 80 percent of the global smartphone market, and the significant tiger economies of that growth are not in the U.S. They’re in India, Latin America and Asia, and we really want to be owning that market.”
Currently, SwiftKey is featured on more than 200 million devices worldwide, but it’s certainly not the only third-party keyboard in the game. Swype by Nuance offers many of the same features, and the company is quick to boast that its keyboard has been deployed on a billion devices across the world.
“Listen, we’re both vying for the same users. We’re both vying for the same set of features,” said Braidwood. “What that really means is being focused on listening to users as much as possible, and all I can say is: Try both and see which one you think is better.”
As for whether SwiftKey will adopt this new business model to its upcoming iOS keyboard, Braidwood said it’s too early to say. But the company is very excited about the next phase of the business.
“If we can drive success to the extent that we are the de facto keyboard in the world across Android and iOS, which is the dream, then there are so many awesome ways to take the same principles that apply to the way we understand and learn how people use words and think about other useful things we can do for the keyboard,” he said.