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9/5/2012
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Predictive Typing App Fleksy Makes iPhone More Accessible

Hate entering text on your iPhone? Amazing Fleksy, originally created for sight-impaired users, correctly guesses words typed anywhere on the screen.

Entering text on an iPhone is hard, even if your eyes are good. San Francisco-based Syntellia says Fleksy is the solution. Fleksy is a predictive text app that correctly guesses words typed anywhere on the screen when they are entered in a roughly QWERTY pattern.

Syntellia originally developed Fleksy for the blind and near blind to make typing on an iPhone possible. The app replaces the keyboard in Mail and Messaging, and lets users copy text from the Fleksy app to other locations. The app is available for iPod Touch, iPad, and iPhones running iOS 5.1 and later.

VoiceOver
VoiceOver
According to the company, most visually impaired people with mobile devices prefer iPhones. That's because of VoiceOver, a technology that's standard on every iPhone. VoiceOver provides the same functionality to blind users via voice commands as a person with normal vision. It's not quite the same thing as Siri, but it's close. VoiceOver also works with third-party apps.

Then something happened that Syntellia didn't expect. After launch just over a month ago, Fleksy started gaining traction in the mainstream market. The company quickly changed tactics, according to company COO Ioannis Verdelis, and dropped the app's price from $15 to $4.99 and added a free demo version. "We wanted a price reflecting that [it's a mainstream app]," COO Verdelis said. "We're not positioning ourselves to be a specialized app anymore."

Autocorrect typing problems are so common there is a website devoted to the funniest mistakes with thousands of awkward and hilarious auto-correct typos.

There are two reasons for auto-correct mistakes according to COO Verdelis. One is that the current algorithms for predictive text are based on the code found in word processors. That code is good at correcting mistakes in situations where users get tactile feedback--with a keyboard--but not the errors that often happen on touch screen devices.

The second reason is that functions on a touchscreen that require accuracy--things such as editing and deleting--are almost impossible to perform on a small touchscreen device error free.

Fleksy uses a unique combination of keyboard pattern recognition and gestures to allow almost anyone to type, COO Verdelis says. Users simply type in a word's approximate keyboard pattern anywhere on the screen. A finger swipe to the right signals to the app you've finished that word, and Fleksy reads back the word.

Fleksy also allows for custom dictionary entries, and has features for manual word input when entering proper names and email addresses, for instance. These custom inputs can be saved as favorites for easy access. The app also features advanced punctuation and tools to communicate more easily with other Fleksy users.

Fleksy will be available for Android devices at some point, said Verdelis. The company also is working to get the technology preloaded onto Android devices. It already integrates into other apps with its software developer kit.


Perhaps because of fewer developer restrictions, predictive typing has been available on Android for some time. BYTE also has covered the TouchPal Input Suite and the Float-N-Split Tablet Keyboard app from A.I.type.

Alternative keyboard apps are popular on Android systems because the apps entirely replace the default keyboard. But on iOS that's not possible, and so there are fewer companies developing apps for that market.

Currently Fleksy supports U.S. English only. Spanish, French, and Italian versions are in the works, according to the company's website. The app has had an "incredible response from Asia in the last couple of weeks," said Verdelis. "We were in the top 10 apps in Japan, and the top 20 in China, even though Fleksy is only available in English."

On the iTunes store the app has an average rating of four and a half stars from 41 people.

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