Microsoft’s Word Flow keyboard is now available on the iPhone, providing nice customization options and a unique Arc mode for one-handed usage. The initial release is U.S. English-only, but it’s not clear if its distribution is restricted.
Obviously, I had to check this out. The first hurdle: Installing the keyboard.
As many iOS users know, the installation of third party keyboards remains ponderous: You can’t just OK the keyboard from within the downloaded app. Instead, you must manually open iOS Settings and navigate to General, Keyboard, Keyboards and then select Add New Keyboard and then Word Flow. Then, you must grant the keyboard full access to your system. Whew.
Worse, the first time I did this, my iPhone actually froze up. (To be somewhat fair to Apple, I’m in the Apple developer program and am using a pre-release build of a future iOS version. And for all I know, the freeze was Microsoft’s fault.)
OK, that done, it was time to configure the iPhone to use the Word Flow keyboard. To do so, open an app that triggers the onscreen keyboard—I chose Messages–and then tap the little globe key you’ll see at the bottom left. After a quick notification about letting Word Flow access your contacts, the new keyboard appears.
As you can see, it has a clean look that is many ways more at home in iOS than is Apple’s own keyboard, with “thin” fonts and a subtle gradation. As it’s name suggests, this keyboard supports Swype-style typing in addition to the less efficient tap method, and it generally works as expected.
The cool bit, of course, is the one-handed Arc mode. To engage this mode, you swipe towards the center of the screen from the little “arc” keys—they look like quarter circles—you’ll see on either side of the keyboard. So, yes, it works for both righties or lefties.
And, yes, the keyboard of course support Swype-style gesture typing in this mode too.
You can customize the Word Flow keyboard with themes, too, so if you’re not a fan of that default clean look you can select your own. Literally: In addition to the built-in themes, you can make your own theme using a favorite photo. Nice!
This one looks seriously interesting. I’ll keep using it with the iPhone and see whether it’s worth switching to.