by James A. Martin

Microsoft’s Word Flow a surprisingly solid iOS keyboard — with one caveat

Apr 27, 2016
Consumer ElectronicsMobile Apps

Word Flow is Microsoft's mobile keyboard for Windows phones and now iPhones. It's particularly useful for typing with one hand on larger Apple smartphones, but it also presents some significant privacy and security risks.

texting im in the workplace
Credit: Thinkstock

Microsoft just made Apple’s iPhone easier to use.

Yes, you read that correctly. In the past, Microsoft, for those with long memories, was rarely inclined to help make Apple products shine. However, the desktop software wars are passé in this mobile-first era. Microsoft’s free Word Flow app for iPhone is a keyboard from Microsoft Garage, the company’s experimental apps division, that greatly improves the iPhone typing experience.

Word Flow has been available for Windows phones, but it’s just now making an iOS debut. (The app is still not available for Android.) After using the keyboard for while, I found three reasons to install it, and one reason to potentially skip Word Flow.

Why you might love Microsoft’s Word Flow keyboard

1. Word Flow makes it super easy to type with one hand

With a quick slide of your finger, the Word Flow keyboard morphs from a horizontal layout across the screen to a curved layout, called “arc mode,” on the display’s right side. The feature eases one-handed typing, and it’s particularly helpful on large iPhones.

2. Word Flow predicts the next words you might need

Say you’re heading to the grocery store after work, and you want to ask your honey if he or she wants anything. As you type each word in your message, Word Flow tries to figure out the specific word you want, as well as the next word after that. It doesn’t always work, but the success rate was good in my tests. And Microsoft says the app learns from your texts so it can render even more accurate guesses.

ms word flow 2

3. Word Flow has colorful themes

Word Flow currently offers nine different keyboard color and image themes. Microsoft says more are on the way. And you can create themes from your own photos, which is pretty cool.

Word Flow also lets you quickly type by swiping a finger across the keyboard. I never developed a taste for this type of input, but many swear by it.

So let’s recap. The keyboard is free. It makes one-handed typing easier. It does a good job predicting the words you want, which makes typing easier in general. Why wouldn’t you want to download this thing immediately?

Why you might NOT love Microsoft’s Word Flow keyboard

1. Privacy, privacy, privacy

To get the best predictive-typing experience, you’re encouraged to give Word Flow full access to transmit “anything you type, including things you have previously typed with this keyboard. This could include sensitive information such as your credit card number or street address.”

Whoa. That sounds pretty scary.

A Microsoft Garage support page reads, “While you can still get predictions when typing and swiping without ‘Full Access,’ certain functionality doesn’t work without it.” For example, without Full Access, Word Flow can’t access your contacts, for easy auto-complete when sending messages or email.

Of course, Word Flow isn’t the only mobile keyboard that requests scary-sounding full access. SwiftKey, perhaps the most popular third-party keyboard for iOS and Android, requires full access for some features, including word predictions.

In a similar effort to appease your inner Edward Snowden, a SwiftKey support page reads, “By granting Full Access to SwiftKey, this does not mean everything you type is transmitted off your device, despite a warning message that shows when you allow the permission … No language data or words that you type will ever leave your device or be transmitted while using SwiftKey Keyboard unless you specifically opt in to our SwiftKey Cloud service.”

If you still feel uncomfortable with the idea, third-party keyboards probably aren’t right for you.