The best way to write Messages on Apple Watch?

This little app lets you write more complex Messages using your Apple Watch.

Apple, iOS, Apple Watch
Leif Johnson/IDG

When it comes to writing messages, Apple Watch limits you to canned responses, dictation, and Scribble notes. Now you can also manually write more complex messages, thanks to the recently-updated FlickType Keypad.

The little app that does

FlickType is a $1.99 third-party keyboard app designed for iPhone that also works as a gesture/swipe-type keyboard for the Messages app on your Apple Watch. You can use it to write, send and reply to Messages, use the Digital Crown to scroll for alternative words, emojis, and so on. It can be used as a Complication so it can be made available on your watch face – and in fact, you should enable this for best results.

If you have a cellular Apple Watch, the app allows you to quickly get back to urgent messages, even if they come while you take a jog around your local socially distanced park. The app also works with VoiceOver so can speak your message back to you if you want to be sure it’s correct.

How it works

The developer has done a good job designing the app.

Despite the small size of the display, buttons are nice and clear while support for gesture-based typing makes it feel easier to use than Apple’s own Scribble interface. You get more words written, for a start – and the apps smart enough to figure out what you are trying to write.

Some sample controls:

  • Flick left to delete.
  • Flick right to create a space. Flick right twice to create a period.
  • To change the current word or period, flick up or down.
  • And use the Digital Crown to find alternative words.

What’s it like to use?

I’ve been using the app for a couple of days. I have to say I’m quite pleased with it as it works hard to improve the standard Apple Watch typing experience.

My eyesight isn’t particularly good, so I expected not to like typing on the watch very much, but I’ve found its intuitive understanding of what I’m trying to write to be responsive and fast.

Essentially, it tries to figure out what you are writing based on where you first tap on the keyboard as you swipe the words out. It means that if you’re in the right general area it usually works out what you are trying to say.

There are some limitations, though.

For example, the keyboard doesn’t appear inside the Messages app because Apple won’t allow it to do so. This means that when you want to use the app to write a reply to an incoming message you need to dismiss the message, tap the Complication to access the keyboard, write the reply, and then tap send.

There’s a video that shows this here:

What next?

The latest update brought gesture typing to the Watch app, but it is interesting that FlickType also offers an API developers can use to build in support for the keyboard in their apps. You’ll find it supported in Bear, Chirp for Twitter, and others.

The reason it has been able to do so is because the app is based on the open-sourced Fleksy code; that app was quite popular among accessibility communities but was purchased by Pinterest and kind of left the room.

The fact that accessibility is deeply embedded in the philosophy of the keyboard is what makes it such a useful alternative keyboard for Apple Watch users. It doesn’t depend on accurate character selection, but on more-or-less accurate gesture-based writing.

This is why it’s such a handy companion for Apple Watch, as its accessibility credentials make it usable on a small screen. In the future, I can imagine tools like these becoming virtual, enabling users to (for example) type on a virtual keyboard using gestures while wearing AR glasses.

Which means, of course, that keyboards will one day disappear.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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