The People Behind Swype Look To Transform The iPad Keyboard

Typing 80 words per minute on a touchscreen without peeking? Dryft makes it possible.

The folks behind Swype, the keyboard that took Android by storm, are hoping to replicate that same typing success on the iPad.


Making its debut Monday at TechCrunch Disrupt’s startup competition, Dryft’s keyboard makes use of the tablet’s touch sensor and accelerometer to detect vibration (the difference between a touch and a tap), allowing users to rest their fingers on the iPad’s glass without errant characters showing up on the screen.

“Today if you have an iPad, you can’t rest your hands on the keyboard,” cofounder Rob Chaplinsky tells Fast Company. The reason is because Apple’s default keyboard uses only a touch sensor. “It can’t tell the difference between touching and typing.”

The relationship between Chaplinsky and his cofounder Randy Marsden, who has a background in building accessibility software for people with disabilities, dates back to Swype. Chaplinsky, managing director at Bridgescale Partners, was an investor in the Android keyboard, cofounded by Marsden and Cliff Kushler, that let people quickly input text by sliding a finger across the letters of a word. The company was acquired by Nuance for more than $100 million in 2011, and its keyboard has been installed in more than 400 million Android phones to date.

In addition to typing detection, Dryft also allows people to tap without looking down on the screen because the patented dual-sensor keyboard shifts to the orientation of the hands. “Our keyboard floats to your fingers automatically,” Chaplinksy says.

When a person rests eight fingers on the screen, the home (middle) row automatically forms around those digits, with the rest of the keyboard following. This interaction lets people type from memory, with their eyes closed, without worrying about hitting the wrong keys–and at speeds of 80 words per minute, according to the cofounders. As a smarter, more intuitive keyboard, Dryft has the potential to transform the iPad into a true laptop replacement, suitable both for streaming video and hammering out long reports.

Though Dryft hopes to revolutionize typing on the iPad, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company is still in beta development, aiming to get hardware partners, developers, and investors on board. “We’re not shipping yet because it’s a consumer product, and it has to be perfect,” Chaplinsky says. “Every day our algorithm’s getting better, and we’re talking about integrating it as a keyboard option just like Swype on the phone.”


[Images: Dryft]

About the author

Based in San Francisco, Alice Truong is Fast Company's West Coast correspondent. She previously reported in Chicago, Washington D.C., New York and most recently Hong Kong, where she (left her heart and) worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.