Fleksy’s AI keyboard is getting a store to put mini apps at chatters’ fingertips – TechSwitch

    Remember Fleksy? The customizable Android keyboard app has a brand new trick up its sleeve: It’s including a retailer the place customers can discover and add light-weight third occasion apps to boost their typing expertise.
    Right now it’s launched a taster, preloading a number of ‘mini apps’ into the keyboard — some from very acquainted model names, some rather less so — so customers can begin to see the way it works.
    The first in-keyboard apps are Yelp (native companies search); Skyscanner (flight search); Giphy (animated Gif search); GifNote (music Gifs; launching for U.S. customers just for rights causes); Vlipsy (response video clips); and Emogi (stickers) — with “many more” branded apps slated as coming within the subsequent few months.
    They’re not saying precisely what different manufacturers are coming however there are many acquainted logos to be noticed of their press supplies — from Spotify to Uber to JustEat to Tripadvisor to PayPal and extra…

    The full keyboard retailer itself — which can let customers discover and add and/or delete apps — will probably be launching on the finish of this month.
    The newest model of the Fleksy app will be downloaded totally free through the Play Store.
    Mini apps made for messaging
    The core thought for these mini apps (aka Fleksyapps) is to supply light-weight additions designed to serve the messaging use case.
    Say, for instance, you’re chatting about the place to eat and a pal suggests sushi. The Yelp Fleksyapp would possibly pop up a contextual suggestion for a close-by Japanese restaurant that may be shared straight into the dialog — thereby saving time by removing the necessity for somebody to chop out of the chat, swap apps, discover some related data and minimize and paste it again into the chat.
    Fleksyapps are meant to be useful shortcuts that preserve the dialog flowing. They additionally after all put manufacturers again into the dialog.
    “We couldn’t be more excited to bring the power of the world’s popular songs with GIFs, videos and photos to the new Fleksyapps platform,” says Gifnote co-founder, John vanSuchtelen, in a supporting assertion.
    Fleksy’s mini apps seem above the Qwerty keyboard — in a lot the identical area as a next-word prediction. The person can scroll via the app stack (every a tiny branded circle till tapped on to develop) and select one to work together with. It’s just like the micro apps lodged in Apple’s iMessage however on Android the place iMessage isn’t… The crew additionally plans for Fleksy to help a a lot wider vary of branded apps — therefore the Fleksyapps retailer.

    In-keyboard apps just isn’t a brand new idea for the dev crew behind Fleksy; an earlier keyboard app of theirs (referred to as ThingThing) provided micro apps they constructed themselves as a instrument to increase its utility.
    But now they’re hoping to garner backing and purchase in from third occasion manufacturers excited in regards to the publicity and attain they might achieve by being the place customers spend probably the most machine time: The keyboard.
    “Think of it a bit like the iMessage equivalent but on Android across any app. Or the WeChat mini program but inside the keyboard, available everywhere — not only in one app,” CEO Olivier Plante tells TechSwitch. “That’s a problem of messaging apps these days. All of them are verticals but the keyboard is horizontal. So that’s the benefit for those brands. And the user will have the ability to move them around, add some, to remove some, to explore, to discover.”
    “The brands that want to join our platform they have the option of being preloaded by default. The analogy is that by default on the home screen of a phone you are by default in our keyboard. And moving forward you’ll be able to have a membership — you’re becoming a ‘brand member’ of the Fleksyapps platform, and you can have your brand inside the keyboard,” he provides.
    The first clutch of Fleksyapps had been developed collectively, with the crew working with the manufacturers in query. But Plante says they’re planning to launch a instrument in future so manufacturers will have the ability to put collectively their very own apps — in as little as just some hours.
    “We’re opening this array of functionalities and there’s a lot of verticals possible,” he continues. “In the longer term months we’ll embed new capabilities for the platform — new sort of apps. You can take into consideration skilled apps, or cloud apps. Accessing your recordsdata from several types of clouds. You have the climate vertical. You have ecommerce vertical. You have so many verticals.
    “What you have on the app store today will be reflected into the Fleksyappstore. But really with the focus of messaging and being useful in messaging. So it’s not the full app that we want to bring in — it’s really the core functionality of this app.”
    The Yelp Fleksyapp, for instance, solely contains the flexibility to see close by locations and seek for and share locations. So it’s deliberately stripped down. “The core benefit for the brand is it gives them the ability to extend their reach,” says Plante. “We don’t want to compete with the app, per se, we just want to bring these types of app providers inside the messenger on Android across any app.”
    On the person aspect, the principle benefit he touts is “it’s really, really fast — fleshing that out to: “It’s very lightweight, it’s very, very fast and we want to become the fastest access to content across any app.”

    Users of Fleksyapps don’t must have the complete app put in as a result of the keyboard plugs straight into the API of every branded service. So they get core performance in bite-sized type with out a requirement to obtain the complete app. (Of course they will if they need.)
    So Plante additionally notes the method has advantages vis-a-vis knowledge consumption — which could possibly be a bonus in rising markets the place smartphone customers’ decisions could also be hard-ruled by the prices of knowledge and/or connectivity limits.
    “For those types of users it gives them an ability to access content but in a very light way — where the app itself, loading the app, loading all the content inside the app can be megabits. In Fleksy you’re talking about kilobits,” he says.
    Privacy-sensitive subsequent app ideas
    While baking a bunch of third occasion apps right into a keyboard would possibly sound like a privateness nightmare, the dev crew behind Fleksy have been cautious to verify customers stay in management.
    To wit: Also on board is an AI keyboard assistant (referred to as Fleksynext) — aka “a neural deep learning engine” — which Plante says can detect the context, intention and sentiment of conversations to be able to supply “very useful” app ideas because the chat flows.
    The thought is the AI helps the substance of the chat by providing helpful performance from no matter choose and mixture of apps can be found. Plante refers to those AI-powered ‘next app’ ideas as “pops”.
    And — crucially, from a privateness standpoint — the Fleksynext suggestion engine operates regionally, on machine.
    That means no dialog knowledge is shipped out of the keyboard. Indeed, Plante says nothing the person sorts within the keyboard itself is shared with manufacturers (together with ideas that pop up however get ignored). So there’s no threat — as with another keyboard apps — of customers being regularly strip-mined for private knowledge to profile them as they sort.
    That mentioned, if the person chooses to work together with a Fleksyapp (or its suggestive pop) they’re then interacting with a 3rd occasion’s API. So the standard monitoring caveats apply.
    “We interact with the web so there’s tracking everywhere,” admits Plante. “But, per se, there’s not specific sensitive data that is shared suddenly with someone. It is not related with the service itself — with the Fleksy app.”
    The key level is that the keyboard person will get to decide on which apps they need to use and which they don’t. So they will select which third events they need to share their plans and intentions with and which they don’t.
    “We’re not interesting in making this an advertising platform where the advertiser decides everything,” emphasizes Plante. “We want this to be really close to the user. So the user decides. My intentions. My sentiment. What I type decides. And that is really our goal. The user is able to power it. He can tap on the suggestion or ignore it. And then if he taps on it it’s a very good quality conversion because the user really wants to access restaurants nearby or explore flights for escaping his daily routine… or transfer money. That could be another use-case for instance.”
    They received’t be promoting manufacturers a assured variety of conversions, both.
    That’s clearly crucial as a result of — to win over customers — Fleksynext ideas might want to really feel telepathically helpful, reasonably than irritating, misfired nag. Though the chance of that appears low given how Fleksy customers can customise the keyboard apps to solely see stuff that’s helpful to them.
    “In a sense we’re starting reshape a bit how advertising is seen by putting the user in the center,” suggests Plante. “And giving them a useful means of accessing content. This is the original vision and we’ve been very loyal to that — and we think it can reshape the landscape.”
    “When you look into five years from now, the smartphone we have will be really, really powerful — so why process things in the cloud? When you can process things on the phone. That’s what we are betting on: Processing everything on the phone,” he provides.
    When the complete retailer launches customers will have the ability to add and delete (any) apps — included preloads. So they are going to be within the driving seat. (We requested Plante to a verify the person will have the ability to delete all apps, together with any pre-loadeds and he mentioned sure. So should you take him at his phrase Fleksy is not going to be slicing any offers with OEMs or carriers to indelibly preload sure Fleksyapps. Or, to place it one other manner, crapware baked into the keyboard is most undoubtedly not plan.)
    Depending on what different Fleksyapps launch in future a Fleksy keyboard person might select so as to add, for instance, a search service like DuckDuckGo or France’s Qwant to energy a pro-privacy various to utilizing Google search within the keyboard. Or they might select Google.
    Again the purpose is the selection is theirs.
    Scaling a keyboard right into a platform
    The thought of keyboard-as-platform provides at the very least the opportunity of reintroducing the selection and number of smartphone app shops again earlier than the cynical methods of attention-harvesting tech giants used their community results and platform energy to throttle the app financial system.
    The Android keyboard area was additionally a fertile experiment floor in years previous. But it’s now dominated by Google’s Gboard and Microsoft-acquired Swiftkey. Which makes Fleksy the plucky upstart gunning to scale an impartial various that’s not owned by huge tech and is open to any third occasion that wishes to hitch its mini apps occasion.
    “It will be Bing search for Swiftkey, it will be Google search for Gboard, it will be Google Music, it will be YouTube. But on our side we can have YouTube, we can also have… other services that exist for video. The same way with pictures and the same way for file-sharing and drive. So you have Google Drive but you have Dropbox, you have OneDrive, there’s a lot of services in the cloud. And we want to be the platform that has them all, basically,” says Plante.
    The unique founding crew of the Fleksy keyboard was acqui-hired by Pinterest again in 2016, leaving the keyboard app itself to languish with minimal updates. Then two years in the past Barcelona-based keyboard app maker, ThingThing, stepped in to take over growth.
    Plante confirms it’s since absolutely acquired the Fleksy keyboard expertise itself — offering a strong basis for the keyboard-as-platform enterprise it’s now hoping to scale with the launch of Fleksyapps.
    Talking of scale, he tells us the startup is within the strategy of elevating a multi-million Series A — aiming to shut this summer time. (ThingThing final took in $800,000 through fairness crowdfunding final fall.)
    The crew’s investor pitch is the keyboard provides maybe the one viable conduit left on cellular to reset the enjoying area for manufacturers by providing a route to chop via tech large walled gardens and get the place customers are spending most of their time and a spotlight: i.e. typing and sharing stuff with their pals in personal one-to-one and group chats.
    That means the keyboard-as-platform has the potential to get manufacturers of all stripes again in entrance of customers — by embedding progressive, entertaining and useful bite-sized utility the place it will possibly show its value and amass social forex on the dominant messaging platforms individuals use.
    The subsequent step for the rebooted Fleksy crew is after all constructing scale by buying customers for a keyboard which, as of half a yr in the past, solely had round 1M lively customers from pure downloads.
    Its technique on this entrance is to focus on Android machine makers to preload Fleksy because the default keyboard.
    ThingThing’s enterprise mannequin is a income share on any ideas the keyboard converts, which it argues signify beneficial leads for manufacturers — given the extent of contextual intention. It can be aspiring to cost manufacturers that need to be preloaded on the Fleksy keyboard by default.
    Again, although, a income share mannequin requires substantial scale to work. Not least as a result of manufacturers might want to see proof of scale to purchase into the Fleksyapps’ imaginative and prescient.
    Plante isn’t disclosing lively customers of the Fleksy keyboard proper now. But says he’s assured they’re on monitor to hit 30M-35M lively customers this yr — on account of round ten offers he says are within the pipeline with machine makers to preload Fleksy’s keyboard. (Palm was an early instance, as we reported final yr.)
    The carrot for OEMs to hitch the Fleksyapps occasion is that they’re slicing them in on the income share from person interactions with branded keyboard apps — enjoying to machine makers’ wants to seek out methods to spice up famously tight margins.
    “The fact that the keyboard can monetize and provide value to the phone brands — this is really massive for them,” argues Plante. “The phone brands can expect revenue flowing in their bank account because we give the brands distribution and the handset manufacturer will make money and we will make money.”
    It’s a wise method, and one which’s basically solely attainable as a result of Google’s personal Gboard keyboard doesn’t come preloaded on nearly all of Android gadgets. (Exceptions embody its personal Pixel model gadgets.) So — unusually for a core cellphone app on Android — there’s a little bit of an open door the place the keyboard sits, as an alternative of the standard preloaded Google wares. And that’s a chance.
    Markets smart, ThingThing is focusing on OEMs in all world areas with its Fleksy pitch — barring China (which Plante readily admits it too advanced for a small startup to sensibly strive leaping at).
    Apps vs tech giants
    In its stamping floor of Europe there are heat regulatory winds blowing too: An European Commission antitrust intervention final yr noticed Google hit with a $5BN positive over anti-competitive practices hooked up to its Android platform — forcing the corporate to vary native licensing phrases.
    That antirust determination means cellular makers lastly have the prospect to unbundle Google apps from gadgets they promote within the area.
    Which interprets into rising alternatives for OEMs to rethink their Android methods. Even as Google stays beneath stress to not get in the way in which by pressure feeding any extra of its wares.
    Really, a key part of this shift is that machine makers are being advised to assume, to go searching and see what else is on the market. For the primary time there seems to be a viable likelihood to revenue off of Android with out having to preload every thing Google desires.
    “For us it’s a super good sign,” says Plante of the Commission determination. “Every monopolistic situation is a problem. And the market needs to be fragmented. Because if not we’re just going to lose innovation. And right now Europe — and I see good progress for the US as well — are trying to dismantle the imposed power of those big guys. For the simple evolution of human being and technology and the future of us.”
    “I think good things can happen,” he provides. “We’re in talks with handset producers who’re coming into Europe and so they need to be probably the most respectful of the market. And with us they’ve this reassurance that you’ve an excellent companion that ensures there’s a income stream, there’s a enterprise mannequin behind it, there’s actually a powerful use-case for customers.
    “We can finally be where we always wanted to be: A choice, an alternative. But having Google imposing its way since start — and making sure that all the direct competition of Google is just a side, I think governments have now seen the problem. And we’re a winner of course because we’re a keyboard.”
    But what about iOS? Plante says the crew has plans to convey what they’re constructing with Fleksy to Apple’s cellular platform too, in time. But for now they’re absolutely focusing efforts on Android — to push for scale and execute on their imaginative and prescient of staking their declare to be the impartial keyboard platform.
    Apple has supported third occasion keyboards on iOS for years. Unfortunately, although, the expertise isn’t nice — with a flaky toggle to change away from the default Apple keyboard, mixed with heavy system warnings in regards to the dangers of utilizing third occasion keyboards.
    Meanwhile the default iOS keyboard ‘just works’ — and customers have a great deal of further options baked by default into Apple’s native messaging app, iMessage.
    Clearly various keyboards have discovered all of it however not possible to construct any form of scale in that iOS pincer.
    “iOS is coming later because we need to focus on these distribution deals and we need to focus on the brands coming into the platform. And that’s why iOS right now we’re really focusing for later. What we can say is it will come later,” says Plante, including: “Apple limits a lot keyboards. You can see it with other keyboard companies. It’s the same. The update cycle for iOS keyboard is really, really, really slow.”
    Plus, after all, Fleksy being preloaded as a default keyboard on — the crew hopes — thousands and thousands of Android gadgets is a way more scalable proposition vs simply being one other downloadable app languishing invisibly on the aspect traces of one other tech large’s platform.

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