Farewell Swype + Dragon

Mon, 04/03/2019 - 11:06 -- James Oakley
Swype

On 31st January 2014, I paid £2.42 to Google Play for a copy of Swype Keyboard. (That link is broken, unless you too bought it). At that time, it was by far the best onscreen Android keyboard that lets you trace the word you're typing with your finger. The app then works out which word you're typing, by looking at all the possibilities given the letters your finger moved through, whittling down to those which are known real words (or are in your custom word list), and then offering you the most common given what it has learnt of your own word frequencies. The result is astonishingly accurate.

Before deciding which one to pay for, I'd also tried the trial of SwiftKey. I found this less intuitive, and less reliable, and caused some lag on the phone I was using - so I paid for Swype. (Since then, Microsoft bought SwiftKey for $250m in February 2016, and it's now free).

There was another purchase involved before I discovered Swype. In October 2011, Swype Keyboard was purchased by Nuance for $100m. Nuance was primarily a speech-recognition developer, and wanted Swype so they tie in the technology to ease keyboard input as well.

End of an era

Fast forward to 21st February 2018, by which time I'd had 4 years use from my purchase, and so cannot complain. Nuance announce that they are ending support for the Swype Keyboard.

Buy it. Work the guts of the software into their flagship software platforms. Then ditch it.

You can read about this development on The Verge and on the XDA Developers site.

That means no new versions, which is not a problem, as they'd ironed out most of the bugs I'd found over the years. Besides, those of us who bought it can continue to use it. If it's already installed on your device, it doesn't go away. You can still download it from Google Play if you bought it (as opposed to installed it when it went free). For good measure, I extracted the APK of the latest version so that I have another way to install on any new devices.

All was good until I had to wipe a phone to factory settings on 13 Feb 2019. I'd done this many times in the previous few months for various reasons, and Swype always re-installed fine. But this time was different. Several things didn't work.

Syncing custom dictionaries

I've already mentioned that Swype lets you add words to your own custom dictionary, so that it will recognise them in the future. You can link your Swype app to an account on the Nuance servers. It then syncs this word list up to their system, so that you can install Swype on another device and work with the same custom word list.

With this new installation, I entered my Swype email address as usual. Swype sent an email to that address with a 5-digit code to enter in the app, again, as usual. The app then confirmed that I'd successfully linked this new device to my Swype account, again as usual. Only my custom word list never arrived from the cloud. Normally, this just happens within a few seconds of confirming the email address. This time, no amount of clicking "Sync now", rebooting the phone, or clearing application data and trying again would make it sync. Go to "Edit dictionary", and it's "empty".

I asked Swype / Nuance if this was a temporary glitch. Three weeks later, and they haven't replied. They really have ended support for this old product, including the courtesy most firms have to reply to simple social media enquiries like that.

Online theme repository

Another feature I never used was Themes. Swype comes with a number of custom themes, to change the colour scheme and the look / feel of the keyboard. You can also download a theme from their website, which can be done in-app.

As of the custom dictionary sync problem on 13th February 2019, I also noticed that I could no longer download a new theme to the app. Within the app, go Menu > Themes > Get Themes, and the page never loads.

Theme page never loads

Their Server Half Working

Logging the DNS requests on the device, I could see that both those tasks (sync the custom dictionary, and loading a list of available themes) attempted to connect to the same domain: api-swype.swypeconnect.com. That still resolves with an A record, but the server behind it is obviously not running.

At the same time the process of registering the device to my existing account did complete successfully. But the DNS logger shows that this relies on communication with www.googleapis.com instead.

However this process appears to be half-broken. When you receive the email from Swype with the 5-digit code, it gives you two ways to complete authentication. One is to enter the 5-digit code in the app, which works fine. (It seems to communicate through lbs-swype.swypeconnect.com). However they also give you a link to click, which will achieve the same thing. That link is of this type: http://www.swype.com/activation?email=you%40example.com&code=12345. That link does not work - it just redirects to https://www.nuance.com/products/help/swype/OpenSourceLicense.html.

That said, something is working on their servers. The email I received was sent from api-46.prod.som.swypeconnect.com from where it went to mail.swypeconnect.com. So email verification is working because the only web-accessible URL required is on Google's API servers, not those run by Nuance (which appear to have been shut down), although the verification emails are then sent by Swype themselves.

Background data

The conclusion so far is that I cannot use custom word sync any more. That's not a huge problem. I have a backup of my word list. It just means that any new words I add won't sync to other devices, and would need manually backing up.

But then I discovered something more sinister. 4 days into my mobile billing month, my phone alerted me to the fact that I'd used 2 GB of mobile data so far this month, which is more than usual. I drilled down to find which apps had used so much, to find that it was ... Swype + Dragon. It had burnt through 500 MB of data, on mobile data (not Wi-Fi), per day!

So it would seem that it is constantly at work in the background, trying to phone home. And because it does not succeed, it tries again and again - using what would be 15 GB per month!

So I then blocked Swype + Dragon from using any background data. And you must too, if you still have it installed.

I need a new keyboard

However it also means I need a new keyboard. Nuance's "end of support" now affects functionality in ways other than just removing it from the Play Store.

I'd love some suggestions. There are particular features I enjoyed using on Swype, and I'd like to know how to do the equivalents in whichever successor I install.

  1. Swipe to type. This may seem obvious, but you'd be amazed how many websites listing alternatives to Swype include some that don't actually do this!
  2. Custom dictionary. I'd like to be able to add words easily (such as press-hold on a word, then choose "add to dictionary). I'd also like to import the custom dictionary that Swype has built up over the years.
  3. Sync. I'd like to sync, automatically, this custom dictionary between my various devices.
  4. Capitalising words. There are two things Swype does.
    1. Whilst swiping, if (mid-gesture) you swipe up out of the keyboard area and pause for a fraction of a second, the next letter you swipe past will be capitalised.
    2. You can tap in any word you've already typed, and then swipe up from the Swype button to the shift key, and you'll be given a menu to convert that word into lower, title or upper case.
  5. Numberpad. If you press and hold on the Swype button, the keyboard changes from QWERTY to a numberpad similar to that on the right of most physical computer keyboards. For entering phone numbers or other numeric data, this is a real help.
  6. Space after punctuate. If you put a full stop or comma after a word, Swype automatically then follows with a space (and capitalises the first letter of the next word). Swype doesn't get this right after brackets and quotation marks, so if the new app handles this then that's even better!

Over to you. What would you recommend? Does your recommendation do all of the above? If any of them aren't obvious, then how?

Blog Category: 

Comments

Tim Edwards's picture
Submitted by Tim Edwards on

I am currently using Google keyboard, which does nearly all of those.

The one that it doesn't quite do is capitalisation: if I forgot to capitalise a word, I have to go back and retype. There isn't the option to just change it to upper case.

The other thing that I miss is the option of having arrow keys: trying to navigate within text that one has typed can be tricky using fingers on a small screen, so I valued the option of being able to do so using arrow keys.

James Oakley's picture
Submitted by James Oakley on

I am currently using Google keyboard

... which has the bonus of being the one you get preinstalled

The one that it doesn't quite do is capitalisation

Is capitalising while you type easily done? Or do you have to press the shift key once before you swipe to get the first letter in upper case, and press it twice to do the whole word?

The other thing that I miss is the option of having arrow keys

Ah yes, that! I'd forgotten Swype even had that, but I used to use that a lot. I guess I can live without a feature I'd accidentally stopped using!

Alfred's picture
Submitted by Alfred on

The biggest issue with any other keyboard is the lack of shortcuts like select all and copy/paste I got so use to that, I sometimes edit work material on my phone.  I'll just continue to use Swype but surprised to hear they shut it down.  I guess not enough people are willing to spend money on a keyboard app.  Strbagr.

Alfred's picture
Submitted by Alfred on

It's easy enough to continue and use it, still the best keyboard.  If you go in to settings and check off cellular it won't transmit any data and use up your bandwidth or you can disable that in app permissions in android.   

Add new comment

Additional Terms