SwiftKey announced Wednesday that its popular third-party keyboard for Android smartphones will be available for free. In addition, the company launched an online store to sell themes and other customizable content.
Chief marketing officer Joe Braidwood says making SwiftKey free will help increase its reach globally. Previously, the app was priced at $3.99 on Google Play. "In the States, someone would say, 'Do I buy this app or a coffee?' In India, it's 'Do I buy this app or food for a couple days?'" he tells Fast Company.
Update: After receiving backlash on Twitter for his comments, Braidwood emailed to clarify his position on making the app free, and to say he in no way intended to disparage anyone living in India. "By removing the price tag, we're now letting everyone, everywhere, get access to the app without a barrier to entry," he wrote. "In particular, we're excited about the potential this gives us to grow in new and emerging markets."
Up until this change, SwiftKey, which is installed on 200 million devices globally, had two major revenue sources: its app sold directly to consumers and partnerships with manufacturers, such as Samsung, to integrate its keyboard into devices out of the box. Braidwood said the new SwiftKey store will offset the lost consumer revenue. At launch, it will feature more than 30 themes, and users who have paid for the app will receive a pack of 10 themes for free. The company plans to offer different types of virtual goods down the line, but declined to elaborate on what they are. Named one of Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies in productivity, SwiftKey has also added support for more than 800 emoji characters and an emoji prediction feature that suggests characters most often used with specific words and phrases.
"People are demanding a more personal experience," Braidwood says. "If you consider a keyboard a two-square-inch piece of real estate, there's so much you can do with it."
Until recently, SwiftKey has focused primarily on the Android platform. But at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference last week, Apple said it would be opening up iOS 8 to third-party keyboards. Shortly after the conference keynote, both SwiftKey and competitor Swype announced they were already working on keyboards for iOS. This won't be the company's first foray into iOS though. Earlier this year, it released a standalone note-taking app featuring its smart-keyboard, largely to demonstrate its potential.
"We were prepared for this and excited about this opportunity," Braidwood says. "We've been kicking the tires on the beta all week, and we're starting to bring together our plans."