Fleksy’s AI keyboard is removing a store to put mini apps during chatters’ fingertips

Remember Fleksy? The customizable Android keyboard app has a new pretence adult a sleeve: It’s adding a store where users can find and supplement lightweight third celebration apps to raise their typing experience.

Right now it’s launched a taster, preloading a preference of ‘mini apps’ into a keyboard — some from unequivocally informed code names, some a tiny reduction so — so users can start to see how it works.

The initial in-keyboard apps are Yelp (local services search); Skyscanner (flight search); Giphy (animated Gif search); GifNote (music Gifs; rising for U.S. users usually for rights reasons); Vlipsy (reaction video clips); and Emogi (stickers) — with “many more” branded apps slated as entrance in a subsequent few months.

They’re not observant accurately what other brands are entrance yet there are copiousness of informed logos to be speckled in their press materials — from Spotify to Uber to JustEat to Tripadvisor to PayPal and more…

The full keyboard store itself — that will let users find and supplement and/or undo apps — will be rising during a finish of this month.

The latest chronicle of a Fleksy app can be downloaded for giveaway around a Play Store.

Mini apps done for messaging

The core thought for these mini apps (aka Fleksyapps) is to offer lightweight additions designed to offer a messaging use case.

Say, for example, you’re chatting about where to eat and a crony suggests sushi. The Yelp Fleksyapp competence cocktail adult a contextual thought for a circuitously Japanese grill that can be common directly into a review — thereby saving time by doing divided with a need for someone to cut out of a chat, switch apps, find some applicable info and cut and pulp it behind into a chat.

Fleksyapps are dictated to be useful shortcuts that keep a review flowing. They also of march put brands behind into a conversation.

“We couldn’t be some-more vehement to pierce a energy of a world’s renouned songs with GIFs, videos and photos to a new Fleksyapps platform,” says Gifnote co-founder, John vanSuchtelen, in a ancillary statement.

Fleksy’s mini apps seem above a Qwerty keyboard — in many a same space as a next-word prediction. The user can corkscrew by a app smoke-stack (each a tiny branded round until tapped on to expand) and select one to correlate with. It’s identical to a micro apps lodged in Apple’s iMessage yet on Android where iMessage isn’t… The organisation also skeleton for Fleksy to support a many wider operation of branded apps — hence a Fleksyapps store.

In-keyboard apps is not a new judgment for a dev organisation behind Fleksy; an progressing keyboard app of theirs (called ThingThing) charity micro apps they built themselves as a apparatus to extend a utility.

But now they’re anticipating to hoard subsidy and buy in from third celebration brands vehement about a bearing and strech they could advantage by being where users spend a many device time: The keyboard.

“Think of it a bit like a iMessage homogeneous yet on Android opposite any app. Or a WeChat mini module yet inside a keyboard, accessible everywhere — not usually in one app,” CEO Olivier Plante tells TechCrunch. “That’s a problem of messaging apps these days. All of them are verticals yet a keyboard is horizontal. So that’s a advantage for those brands. And a user will have a ability to pierce them around, supplement some, to mislay some, to explore, to discover.”

“The brands that wish to join a height they have a choice of being preloaded by default. The analogy is that by default on a home shade of a phone we are by default in a keyboard. And relocating brazen you’ll be means to have a membership — you’re apropos a ‘brand member’ of a Fleksyapps platform, and we can have your code inside a keyboard,” he adds.

The initial purchase of Fleksyapps were grown jointly, with a organisation operative with a brands in question. But Plante says they’re formulation to launch a apparatus in destiny so brands will be means to put together their possess apps — in as tiny as usually a few hours.

“We’re opening this array of functionalities and there’s a lot of verticals possible,” he continues. “In a destiny months we will hide new capabilities for a height — new form of apps. You can consider about veteran apps, or cloud apps. Accessing your files from opposite forms of clouds. You have a continue vertical. You have ecommerce vertical. You have so many verticals.

“What we have on a app store currently will be reflected into a Fleksyappstore. But unequivocally with a concentration of messaging and being useful in messaging. So it’s not a full app that we wish to pierce in — it’s unequivocally a core functionality of this app.”

The Yelp Fleksyapp, for example, usually includes a ability to see circuitously places and hunt for and share places. So it’s intentionally nude down. “The core advantage for a code is it gives them a ability to extend their reach,” says Plante. “We don’t wish to contest with a app, per se, we usually wish to pierce these forms of app providers inside a follower on Android opposite any app.”

On a user side, a categorical advantage he touts is “it’s really, unequivocally quick — fleshing that out to: “It’s unequivocally lightweight, it’s very, unequivocally quick and we wish to turn a fastest entrance to calm opposite any app.”

Users of Fleksyapps don’t need to have a full app commissioned given a keyboard plugs directly into a API of any branded service. So they get core functionality in bite-sized form yet a requirement to download a full app. (Of march they can if they wish.)

So Plante also records a proceed has advantages vis-a-vis information expenditure — that could be an advantage in rising markets where smartphone users’ choices competence be hard-ruled by a costs of information and/or connectivity limits.

“For those forms of users it gives them an ability to entrance calm yet in a unequivocally light proceed — where a app itself, loading a app, loading all a calm inside a app can be megabits. In Fleksy you’re articulate about kilobits,” he says.

Privacy-sensitive subsequent app suggestions

While baking a garland of third celebration apps into a keyboard competence sound like a remoteness nightmare, a dev organisation behind Fleksy have been clever to make certain users sojourn in control.

To wit: Also on house is an AI keyboard partner (called Fleksynext) — aka “a neural low training engine” — that Plante says can detect a context, thought and perspective of conversations in sequence to offer “very useful” app suggestions as a discuss flows.

The thought is a AI supports a piece of a discuss by charity useful functionality from whatever collect and brew of apps are available. Plante refers to these AI-powered ‘next app’ suggestions as “pops”.

And — crucially, from a remoteness indicate of perspective — a Fleksynext thought engine operates locally, on device.

That means no review information is sent out of a keyboard. Indeed, Plante says zero a user forms in a keyboard itself is common with brands (including suggestions that cocktail adult yet get ignored). So there’s no risk — as with some other keyboard apps — of users being ceaselessly strip-mined for personal information to form them as they type.

That said, if a user chooses to correlate with a Fleksyapp (or a revealing pop) they are afterwards interacting with a third party’s API. So a common tracking caveats apply.

“We correlate with a web so there’s tracking everywhere,” admits Plante. “But, per se, there’s not specific supportive information that is common unexpected with someone. It is not associated with a use itself — with a Fleksy app.”

The pivotal indicate is that a keyboard user gets to select that apps they wish to use and that they don’t. So they can select that third parties they wish to share their skeleton and intentions with and that they don’t.

“We’re not engaging in creation this an promotion height where a advertiser decides everything,” emphasizes Plante. “We wish this to be unequivocally tighten to a user. So a user decides. My intentions. My sentiment. What we form decides. And that is unequivocally a goal. The user is means to energy it. He can daub on a thought or omit it. And afterwards if he taps on it it’s a unequivocally good peculiarity acclimatisation given a user unequivocally wants to entrance restaurants circuitously or try flights for evading his daily routine… or send money. That could be another use-case for instance.”

They won’t be offered brands a guaranteed series of conversions, either.

That’s clearly unequivocally critical given — to win over users — Fleksynext suggestions will need to feel telepathically useful, rather than irritating, misfired nag. Though a risk of that seems low given how Fleksy users can customize a keyboard apps to usually see things that’s useful to them.

“In a clarity we’re starting reshape a bit how promotion is seen by putting a user in a center,” suggests Plante. “And giving them a useful means of accessing content. This is a strange prophesy and we’ve been unequivocally constant to that — and we consider it can reshape a landscape.”

“When we demeanour into 5 years from now, a smartphone we have will be really, unequivocally absolute — so given routine things in a cloud? When we can routine things on a phone. That’s what we are betting on: Processing all on a phone,” he adds.

When a full store launches users will be means to supplement and undo (any) apps — enclosed preloads. So they will be in a pushing seat. (We asked Plante to a endorse a user will be means to undo all apps, including any pre-loadeds and he pronounced yes. So if we take him during his word Fleksy will not be slicing any deals with OEMs or carriers to indelibly preload certain Fleksyapps. Or, to put it another way, crapware baked into a keyboard is many unequivocally not plan.)

Depending on what other Fleksyapps launch in destiny a Fleksy keyboard user could select to add, for example, a hunt use like DuckDuckGo or France’s Qwant to energy a pro-privacy choice to regulating Google hunt in a keyboard. Or they could select Google.

Again a indicate is a choice is theirs.

Scaling a keyboard into a platform

The thought of keyboard-as-platform offers during slightest a probability of reintroducing a choice and accumulation of smartphone app stores behind before a asocial tricks of attention-harvesting tech giants used their network effects and height energy to stifle a app economy.

The Android keyboard space was also a fruitful examination belligerent in years past. But it’s now dominated by Google’s Gboard and Microsoft-acquired Swiftkey. Which creates Fleksy a heroic pretender gunning to scale an eccentric choice that’s not owned by large tech and is open to any third celebration that wants to join a mini apps party.

“It will be Bing hunt for Swiftkey, it will be Google hunt for Gboard, it will be Google Music, it will be YouTube. But on a side we can have YouTube, we can also have… other services that exist for video. The same proceed with cinema and a same proceed for file-sharing and drive. So we have Google Drive yet we have Dropbox, we have OneDrive, there’s a lot of services in a cloud. And we wish to be a height that has them all, basically,” says Plante.

The strange initial organisation of a Fleksy keyboard was acqui-hired by Pinterest behind in 2016, withdrawal a keyboard app itself to languish with minimal updates. Then two years ago Barcelona-based keyboard app maker, ThingThing, stepped in to take over development.

Plante confirms it’s given entirely acquired a Fleksy keyboard record itself — providing a plain substructure for a keyboard-as-platform business it’s now anticipating to scale with a launch of Fleksyapps.

Talking of scale, he tells us a startup is in a routine of lifting a multi-million Series A — aiming to tighten this summer. (ThingThing final took in $800,000 around equity crowdfunding last fall.)

The team’s financier representation is a keyboard offers maybe a usually viable passage left on mobile to reset a personification margin for brands by charity a lane to cut by tech hulk walled gardens and get where users are spending many of their time and attention: i.e. typing and pity things with their friends in private one-to-one and organisation chats.

That means a keyboard-as-platform has a intensity to get brands of all stripes behind in front of users — by embedding innovative, interesting and useful bite-sized application where it can infer a value and assemble amicable banking on a widespread messaging platforms people use.

The subsequent step for a rebooted Fleksy organisation is of march building scale by appropriation users for a keyboard which, as of half a year ago, usually had around 1M active users from pristine downloads.

Its plan on this front is to aim Android device makers to preload Fleksy as a default keyboard.

ThingThing’s business indication is a income share on any suggestions a keyboard converts, that it argues paint profitable leads for brands — given a turn of contextual intention. It is also intending to assign brands that wish to be preloaded on a Fleksy keyboard by default.

Again, though, a income share indication requires estimable scale to work. Not slightest given brands will need to see justification of scale to buy into a Fleksyapps’ vision.

Plante isn’t disclosing active users of a Fleksy keyboard right now. But says he’s assured they’re on lane to strike 30M-35M active users this year — on comment of around 10 deals he says are in a tube with device makers to preload Fleksy’s keyboard. (Palm was an early example, as we reported final year.)

The carrot for OEMs to join a Fleksyapps celebration is they’re slicing them in on a income share from user interactions with branded keyboard apps — personification to device makers’ needs to find ways to boost famously parsimonious hardware margins.

“The fact that a keyboard can monetize and yield value to a phone brands — this is unequivocally large for them,” argues Plante. “The phone brands can design income issuing in their bank comment given we give a brands placement and a handset manufacturer will make income and we will make money.”

It’s a intelligent approach, and one that’s radically usually probable given Google’s possess Gboard keyboard doesn’t come preloaded on a infancy of Android devices. (Exceptions embody a possess Pixel code devices.) So — scarcely for a core phone app on Android — there’s a bit of an open doorway where a keyboard sits, instead of a common preloaded Google wares. And that’s an opportunity.

Markets wise, ThingThing is targeting OEMs in all tellurian regions with a Fleksy representation — exclusive China (which Plante straightforwardly admits it too formidable for a tiny startup to realistically try jumping at).

Apps vs tech giants

In a stamping belligerent of Europe there are comfortable regulatory winds floating too: An European Commission antitrust involvement final year saw Google strike with a $5BN excellent over anti-competitive practices trustworthy to a Android height — forcing a association to change internal chartering terms.

That antirust preference means mobile makers finally have a possibility to unbundle Google apps from inclination they sell in a region.

Which translates into flourishing opportunities for OEMs to rethink their Android strategies. Even as Google stays underneath vigour not to get in a proceed by force feeding any some-more of a wares.

Really, a pivotal member of this change is that device makers are being told to think, to demeanour around and see what else is out there. For a initial time there looks to be a viable possibility to distinction off of Android yet carrying to preload all Google wants.

“For us it’s a super good sign,” says Plante of a Commission decision. “Every monopolistic conditions is a problem. And a marketplace needs to be fragmented. Because if not we’re usually going to remove innovation. And right now Europe — and we see good swell for a US as good — are perplexing to idle a imposed energy of those large guys. For a elementary expansion of tellurian being and record and a destiny of us.”

“I consider good things can happen,” he adds. “We’re in talks with handset manufacturers who are entrance into Europe and they wish to be a many deferential of a market. And with us they have this soundness that we have a good partner that ensures there’s a income stream, there’s a business indication behind it, there’s unequivocally a clever use-case for users.

“We can finally be where we always wanted to be: A choice, an alternative. But carrying Google commanding a proceed given start — and creation certain that all a approach foe of Google is usually a side, we consider governments have now seen a problem. And we’re a leader of march given we’re a keyboard.”

But what about iOS? Plante says a organisation has skeleton to pierce what they’re building with Fleksy to Apple’s mobile height too, in time. But for now they’re entirely focusing efforts on Android — to pull for scale and govern on their prophesy of staking their explain to be the eccentric keyboard platform.

Apple has upheld third celebration keyboards on iOS for years. Unfortunately, though, a knowledge isn’t good — with a flaky toggle to switch divided from a default Apple keyboard, total with complicated complement warnings about a risks of regulating third celebration keyboards.

Meanwhile a default iOS keyboard ‘just works’ — and users have loads of additional facilities baked by default into Apple’s local messaging app, iMessage.

Clearly choice keyboards have found it all yet unfit to build any kind of scale in that iOS pincer.

“iOS is entrance after given we need to concentration on these placement deals and we need to concentration on a brands entrance into a platform. And that’s given iOS right now we’re unequivocally focusing for later. What we can contend is it will come later,” says Plante, adding: “Apple boundary a lot keyboards. You can see it with other keyboard companies. It’s a same. The refurbish cycle for iOS keyboard is really, really, unequivocally slow.”

Plus, of course, Fleksy being preloaded as a default keyboard on — a organisation hopes — millions of Android inclination is a many some-more scalable tender vs usually being another downloadable app grieving invisibly on a side lines of another tech giant’s platform.