Updated. Swype, the text-input interface now common on Android phones, just got a whole lot smarter. New owner Nuance Communications is updating Swype with the same sophisticated contextual-language technologies it uses in its speech-recognition products. The result is what Nuance is calling a “living keyboard” — one that can learn both its user’s vocabulary and his habits.
For starters, Nuance is fully implementing into Swype the XT9 predictive text technologies originally developed by Tegic. Nuance has built on Tegic’s algorithms, though, expanding its prognostication abilities beyond just words to the formation of sentences and phrases.
For instance, the words “pit,” “pot” and “put” follow the same trace path on the Swype keyboard, forcing you to select from the right word from a menu. But by analyzing the words that come before or after the entry, Swype now can place the right word by context. It knows to use the word “pit” after avocado and “put” before the phrase “that away.”
The platform’s intelligence goes beyond just common language structure. Nuance says Swype will adapt and customize itself to its user. It learns to predict phrases and word groupings frequently typed by users. For instance, if I enter the words “Grandpa Fitchard” enough times into text messages, Swype will begin automatically filling in the last name every time I type “Grandpa.”
The new version will also learn from all of your missives, not just the ones composed through Swype. If you give it permission, the software will cull through your emails, SMS messages, Twitter feed and Facebook posts, searching for new words to add to your phone’s personal dictionary.
Nuance has already integrated its Dragon Dictation speech technology — and in some cases Dragon Go semantic search — into Swype, but with this latest release of its software it’s fully bridging the gap between spoken and tactile input methods. Dragon’s speech capabilities use the phone’s data connection to connect to Nuance’s language servers, while text recognition remains local to the device. But Nuance is now linking the two, allowing you to generate a new vocabulary of spoken words synced to your personal dictionary.
For instance, if you spoke an uncommon last name, say “Fitchard,” into the phone, Nuance’s servers simply wouldn’t recognize the word. The Swype interface would then prompt you to type the letters of my last name into the keyboard. It then forevermore associates that spoken word with the written text, creating a unique lexicon of recognizable spoken words for each user.
In addition, Swype now has support for 55 languages — both written and spoken — and offers a third input method (fourth if you count simple key tapping): writing out words by finger, which it then turns into text.
Nuance is selling the new Swype release to Android handset and tablet makers as well as making the technology available to other OSes via a software developer’s kit. If you don’t want to wait for an update from your manufacturer, you can try downloading a beta version for Android from the Nuance site.
A warning though: The beta installer doesn’t recognize all phones, and it won’t load on devices in which a manufacturer has preinstalled Swype in the factory. That involves a lot of Samsung and HTC phones. As with many things Android-related these days, you may be at the whim of your carrier or device maker when it comes to getting the latest version of Swype’s software.
Update: Nuance has told me that the company updated its device policies Wednesday when it released the beta to the general public this morning, making it now possible to download the software on devices that already have Swype factory pre-installed. I tried to download the software on my HTC MyTouch again this afternoon, and, true to Nuance’s word, it worked.