Is this real life? Or is this just fantasy? I’m proudly using a non-Apple keyboard on my iPhone 5S — no jailbreaks necessary.

One of the most surprising additions to iOS 8 — allowing third-party keyboards to replace Apple’s built-in keyboard — is just a small example of the biggest philosophical shift in Apple’s new OS: Apple is finally opening up iOS to developers in a big way. And by doing so, it gives iOS 8 plenty of features previously only available to Android users.

It’s no surprise then that alternative iOS 8 keyboards are now topping the App Store charts just a day after iOS 8’s release (Swype and Fleksy are the top paid apps at the time of this post, while SwiftKey is the top free app). SwiftKey also just announced that its iOS 8 keyboard has been downloaded over a million times in under 24 hours. Talk about pent-up demand.

But Apple isn’t sitting still either: iOS 8 also features a revamped built-in keyboard with contextual word suggestions, similar to SwiftKey’s.

To get a better sense of how the most popular third-party keyboards compare — especially against Apple’s revamped keyboard — I typed out the below passage from Haruki Murakami’s Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World on all of them, with no corrections.

On the whole, I think of myself as one of those people who take a convenience-sake view of prevailing world conditions, events, existence in general. Not that I’m such a blasé, convenience-sake sort of guy — although I do have tendencies in that direction — but because more often than not I’ve observed that convenient approximations bring you closer to comprehending the true nature of things.

iOS 8's revamped keyboard

Above: iOS 8’s revamped keyboard

Image Credit: Apple

Apple’s iOS 8 keyboard

I’ve actually grown to like Apple’s new keyboard in iOS 8. Autocorrect feels more accurate than past versions, and the word suggestions are a nice addition (they’re especially useful for one-handed typing). But I’m also not one of those people that forged an undying hatred for Apple’s past keyboards.

Here’s the Murakami passage:

On the whole, I think of myself as one of those people who take a convenience-sake view of prevailing world conditions, events, existence in general. Not that I’m such a blade, convenience-sake sort of guy — although I do have tendencies in that direction — but because more often than not I’ve observed that convenient approximations bring you closer to comprehending the true nature of things.

Surprisingly, the only error I can see here is replacing blasé with blade. Beyond that, this was a stellar transcript. I was also able to type fairly quickly with the iOS 8 keyboard, but perhaps it just came to me a bit quickly after using iPhones for years.

SwiftKey iOS 8 screenshot

SwiftKey

With its stellar autocorrect, word suggestions, and continual learning capabilities, SwiftKey quickly became my favorite Android keyboard several years ago. I used it on the HTC One for over a year, and I also install it on most Android phones that I review. With iOS 8, SwiftKey felt just as good:

On the whole, I think of myself as one of those people who take a convenience-sake view of prevailing world conditions, events, existence in general. Not that I’m such a blade, convenience-same sort of guy — although I do have tendencies in that direction — but because more often than not I’ve observed that convenient approximations bring you closest to comprehending the true nature of things.

SwiftKey gave me the same result as Apple’s built-in keyboard. Once again, blasé is replaced with blade, but that’s an admittedly tough correction for every English keyboard. Typing with SwiftKey felt a bit faster than the iOS 8 keyboard, and I also noticed that its word suggestions were often more relevant.

Swype's iOS 8 keyboard

Above: Swype’s iOS 8 keyboard

Image Credit: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

Swype

Swype made a name for itself with a whole new way of typing on phones: Instead of tapping out keys, you can swipe your fingers across letters to spell out words. There’s plenty more reliance on algorithms to figure out what you’re trying to type, but it could be useful for people who can’t quite get the hang of typical touchscreen keyboards. (SwiftKey offers a similar feature, Flow, which I didn’t test.)

On the whole I think of myself as one of those people who take a convenience-sake view of prevailing world conditions, events, existence in general. Not that I’m such a blade, conf science sake sort of gut–although I do have tendencies in that direction–but because more often than not I’ve observed that convenient approximation has bring you closest to comprehending the true nature of things.

Once I got into the groove of Swype, it was pretty easy to use. But, as you can see above, it also gave me far more errors than SwiftKey or Apple’s keyboard. I also found that it was increasingly difficult to swipe my fingers across the screen for longer passages (blame palm sweat).

Fleksy's iOS 8 keyboard

Above: Fleksy’s iOS 8 keyboard

Image Credit: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

Fleksy

Fleksy’s mobile keyboard looks a bit different than the competition — it’s all capital letters, with plenty of room around them — and it also includes gestures for editing text. But it’s mostly known for scoring the Guinness World Record for fastest touchscreen keyboard earlier this year.

On the while, think of myself as one of those people who take a convenience-sake view of prevailing world conditions, events, existence in general. Not that in such a blade, cblvenience-sake sort of guy–although I do have tensor cues in that direction–but because more often than not I’ve observed that convenient approximations bring you closest to comprehending the true nature of things.

Oh, where to start. Fleksy was the most error-prone keyboard I tested, but that could also be due to my inexperience with it. Fleksy didn’t correct some obvious errors, like “cblvenience,” and its autocorrect functionality seemed slower than the competition. I know plenty of people who swear by Fleksy though, so it’s likely to perform better if you put in some time with it.

Verdict: Choice is grand

It’s hard to proclaim a champion from my short testing, but one thing I noticed is that each of these keyboards could appeal to different people. And ultimately, that’s the best thing about Apple’s more open stance with developers. Choice is a very good thing.

But in the process of giving developers more leeway, Apple has also significantly improved its own iOS keyboard. That likely won’t get as much publicity as shiny new third-party keyboards, but it’s welcome all the same.

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