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Why buying a virtual keyboard SDK is smarter than building your own

The reality of building a usable, virtual keyboard for end-user to type

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Building your own software virtual keyboard? It seems quite easy. All you need is a layout template, autocorrection and a next-word prediction engine that works in whatever languages. Add swipe input for the anti-peckers and maybe a few emojis or GIFS for the kids. 

Simple, right? 

Not at all. So, what’s overlooked?

The complexity and amount of resources required to build a keyboard that works is heavily underestimated.

As a smartphone user, typing is like breathing. You don’t think about how you type when sending an email or text from your smartphone – you just type and it should work. 

That’s why changing keyboards can create friction if the auto-correction or next-word prediction engines are not what you expect. The closer a keyboard is to default, the better the adoption and retention rates will be. Unfortunately, deciphering the input for multiple finger taps at 1/1,000 of a second apart and understanding the intention of the typist in order to make suggestions instantaneously is as close to rocket science as you can get, without requiring jet fuel. In other words, it’s complicated!

On top of being complicated, add the time it takes for developing the keyboard UX/UI. Put in many layers of Quality Assurance. Double down on bug fixes, maintaining the code as well as adding new features. Add things like dynamic layouts for non-alphabetical languages. Don’t forget layouts like AZERTY, QWERTZ, Dvorak and finally reverse input scripts for languages like Arabic and Hebrew. You’ll result with a list way longer than the parts list of an airplane. 

Don’t forget to provide ongoing support and maintenance to current users while taking care of the laundry list above.

This said, if you don’t support the greatest features such as the latest emojis or swipe typing, your retention rates will plummet. There are many things we “texters” expect from our virtual keyboard as they evolve. Take for example swipe typing. It was once a novelty for those with well-endowed thumbs. Today, it’s widely used and taken for granted by all.

AOSP means Android Open Source Project
AOSP means Android Open Source Project

Building a keyboard from scratch will, in fact, make it a second product within your core product. A product that demands time and money and thus adds to the overhead. You will need a solid team of Engineers, Designers just to build a handful of features and support it. On top of the costs, it will take years until the keyboard is market-ready.  After everything is said and done, there’s still no assurance your customers will even use your keyboard… Can you imagine?

To put the time/money commitment into perspective, here are the top 3 keyboards in the world:

  • Gboard was started by Google in 2005 after the acquisition of Android. It has received hundreds of millions of dollars in development. [No SDK available]
  • Swiftkey was launched in 2010. It was acquired by Microsoft in 2016 for $250 million. It took on hundreds of millions of dollars in development costs. [No SDK available]
  • Fleksy was launched in 2011 and has invested more than €20 million to build its software keyboard. [SDK available]

Cost of Building the keyboard Components

Now, let’s look at the cost breakdown for the keyboard component only. The below DOES NOT INCLUDE your added value as a company! The bread & butter that gives your company meaning still needs to be developed. These are purely keyboard costs… 

At the end of year 1, you are looking at over 1.5 million dollars in investment. And no guaranteed viable product to test if your product hypothesis will actually work. 

If you succeed, Congratulations! You’re one of the few who built a keyboard! Now that you’ve done it, you might think that the costs will slow down since the heavy lifting is done. However, this is where you’re wrong. The keyboard is used every single day. Each user expects its keyboard to evolve and work with the latest versions of Android or iOS. The latest emojis, languages for new slangs and much more!

SO, let’s pretend that you limit your support for languages and don’t add any new features. The baseline required to maintain a virtual keyboard is roughly 1 month each year per platform (Android & iOS). This would costs you around $400,000/year. 

  • Engineering salaries cost = $1.2 million
  • Compliance cost = $75,000
  • Basic Maintenance cost = $750,000

While maintaining your keyboard, you will have to improve it and introduce new features. This implies covering the initial year 1 investment and adding another 1 million dollars to it.

All in all, we can see that the cost of building and maintaining a keyboard is substantial. And it doesn’t even include the added value your company is striving for.

Time is of the essence!

Money is only half the battle. Now, let’s look at the time it will take you to build your virtual smartphone keyboard. 

The building blocks and tools required to support one basic language, like English, Spanish, or French could take 3 years. In US salaries, that’s around $500K per year. Luckily, adding dialects of these languages (for example English UK vs. USA), only takes a couple of weeks each ($10K).

It takes approximately four years to build dictionaries alone, without building the related UI layouts ($2M). From Fleksy’s experience, it took roughly 5 years for 4 developers to build our dictionaries ($2.5+M).

Consequently, you will need to add the cost of building Korean, Japanese, Greek, Russian, etc. Each of those have very particular layouts and their own symbols. These types of languages (not “basic” languages) could take several months to build. 

What if you simply buy?

With Fleksy for Business, the means are justified by the ends. We focus on the typing experience people love and you focus on your area of expertise. A recipe for success. You can build and distribute a product in many, many years OR ship in a matter of days thanks to the Fleksy SDK.

Don’t reinvent the wheel or next-word prediction, Fleksy has the building blocks you need to customize everything imaginable. 

Our keyboard’s Intellectual Property (IP) is 100% owned and operated by Fleksy. This means you can build whatever you want without running into restraints that AOSP keyboards have. You will benefit from the authority and control of owning your own keyboard, without the headaches that accompany it. 

You’re not alone on this journey

  • Join dozens of other companies who use the Fleksy SDK
  • Go-to-market instantly
  • Start testing your product’s feasibility in a keyboard solution that is proven to be loved by millions around the world. 
  • Invest in a system that scales with your business needs without draining your resources or losing focus of what matters.  

Fleksy is hassle-free, meaning you don’t have to worry about upkeep, having the latest features, or hiring engineers. 

The choice is simple. Either you build a keyboard that only kinda works and loses users. Or, you can license a professionally built keyboard, build an awesome product that people will enjoy and come back asking us for more! 

Let us help you, get in touch today! 

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