The new Word Flow Keyboard for Microsoft Windows Phone is here. I’m a texting fiend and I absolutely love this new keyboard. You have to be running Windows Phone 8.1 with the Developer Preview, but that’s easy to get. I’m going to run down my thoughts and observations on the keyboard and then detail what you need to do to install the Develop Preview and Windows Phone 8.1.
Cell Phone Keyboards Have Been Seriously Lacking
One of the biggest beefs that many people have with cell phones is the keyboards. This has been true since the days of the numeric keyboard where you have to push the buttons multiple times to switch between letters. Yeah, there are people that can type at light speed on these keyboards, but messages were always hard to type up and often prone to typing errors.
Cell phone makers gave us QWERTY keyboards after a few years, and things were a little better. However, the tactile sensation was poor and the buttons were often too small to ensure hitting only one while typing quickly. Up to now, I feel that the keyboard on my Palm Treo was the best.
The Evolution of Microsoft’s Word Flow Keyboard
The evolution of Microsoft’s Word Flow keyboard didn’t have as far to go as some of the other cell phone/OS makers had. The predictive text keyboard back then (2010 time frame) was much better than the “Auto Correct” type text prediction we see with Android and especially iPhone keyboards. The predictive keyboard that Microsoft put out back then made for far fewer texting faux pas than users of other phones.
The main step ahead that Microsoft engineers made with this new keyboard is making it what people call a “swipe keyboard” or “shape writing.” This where you don’t lift your finger off the phone screen/keyboard and just move your finger from letter to letter. Earlier this year, a Seattle high school student claimed the title of “World’s Fastest Texter” using the Word Flow keyboard. This was certified by the Guinness Book people. Even better, the keyboard is context-sensitive, so if you’re in a browser, you’ll see a .com option.
The Word Flow Keyboard Learns from You
Most predictive text keyboards are hard-coded with what they can and can’t predict. This keyboard, however, learns with you over time; it learns your habits. I’ve found that it helps speed up my typing by finishing sentences for me, not just words.
I do have to pay a little more attention to make sure I don’t overtype something. I have friends that have told me the same thing. My younger acquaintances tell me that when they type certain words, like smile, an emoji emoticon is displayed.
Nothing Special to Install Like with Android’s Swype or SwiftKey
I have three devices that run on Android and they all have Swype installed. However, I had to research keyboard apps to install in order to get what I consider good keyboard functionality from the onscreen keyboard. I still prefer carrying my small BlueTooth keyboard for when I use those devices. With the Word Flow keyboard, once Windows Phone 8.1 is installed, so is the keyboard. You just have to go into settings to turn it on or off.
Getting the Microsoft Windows Word Flow Keyboard
The answer to that question can be summed up succinctly in five words: Upgrade to Windows Phone 8.1. OK. I know it’s a little more involved than that, like HOW to upgrade, since most operating system upgrades are pushed to Windows Phone. Actually, OS upgrades are only pushed out once the maker of the phone approves them.
Up front I need to let you know that you need to set some time aside for this process because it does take a bit of time. Also, make sure you have your phone plugged in and a good Internet connection. It also must be mentioned that performing this upgrade right now will likely to void your phone’s warranty until the maker releases their approved upgrade. You also won’t be able to revert if something goes haywire (Although, I haven’t heard of that happening yet.).
Step 1. Become a Microsoft Developer
First, you need to sign up for the developer preview. To do that you need to sign up as an app developer. Don’t worry, though. You don’t really need to develop any apps, although, you can if you want. It really isn’t as difficult as you may think. Once you have the Developer Preview installed, you need to start a new project in the App Studio. You just need to create the new project, you don’t need to do anything else.
Step 2. Download the Preview for Developers
Now we’re getting somewhere. Open the Windows Store on your phone and locate and install the “Preview for Developers.” Once installed, launch the app and sign into your Microsoft account.
Step 3. Upgrade Your Phone
Once you’ve logged into your Developer account in the app, it’s time to perform the actual upgrade. Open the Settings menu and scroll down to Phone Update. Tell the phone to check for updates and follow the prompts.
For those that want to use Cortana while playing with the new keyboard, you’ll need to set your phone’s region to the United States for now.