Tuesday, April 15, 2014

F*ck the Swype keyboard for Japanese input and (yet another) general rant on Android IMEs

There are two redeeming qualities about Swype. The first is illustrated by the (albeit censored) title of this post: The ability to register swear words. The second, and the only reason I bought it, was for a dedicated key to switch languages (not to mention the idea of swiping to input Japanese was sexy).

However, my opinion quickly changed once I spent some time actually using Swype in Japanese. The Japanese input of Swype is just bad. This is for a number of reasons. I outlined some in this post half a year ago:
  • Very poor dictionary.
  • No way to register new Japanese words (that I can find)
  • Horrible Japanese swipe prediction to the point of being useless for anything other than very basic grammar.
  • No dedicated enter button to accept Japanese input when you don't swipe to enter it, which causes additional frustration.
  • No support for kunrei-shiki input when swiping.
To this I'll add more gripes.
  • A completely illogical ordering of suggestions, with the most simple suggestion often last. Typing something simple in hiragana will often bring up a slew of complicated words that are attempting to predict what you would type, had you continued to type. But you didn't keep typing; you entered two simple characters, and the characters you entered are often buried at the end of the list of all these characters that in no way, shape, or form whatsoever correspond to anything you actually entered.
  • That none of these issues have been addressed at all in any subsequent updates.
Switching to a non-latin script on Android keyboards can be horrendous. It's slowly getting better, though. Both the Google's Android Latin keyboard and their Japanese keyboard allow you to pop up the switch keyboard menu with a long press of the spacebar, which saves the action of pulling down the notification bar and locating the option to switch input methods since it won't be in the same location every time. (Note that you have to push the spacebar on the Japanese keyboard for a slightly longer time.)

I've recently installed the stock Android keyboard, which was actually a bit of a pain in the butt because it is listed as not available in my country on my Docomo Xperia A. I was a real fan of the Google Japanese godan input, so with the spacebar shortcut (which was previously not on the Japanese keyboard), I may go back to using it and just switch keyboards entirely every time I need to switch languages (every. single. time.)

I've also installed the Kii keyboard, which includes a dedicated, one-touch button for switching between English and Japanese, but it seems to lack anything but QWERTY input for Japanese. I haven't used it enough to form an opinion on it's Japanese dictionary, though it is hard to imagine that it could possible be as terrible as Swype's.

I'd consider purchasing Swiftkey if someone convinces me it has a level of support for Japanese that is on par with the Google's Japanese keyboard. Otherwise, I'd just be buying another English keyboard that sucks at Japanese. I already have one of those.


  1. Unfortunetely, no good Japanese keyboards offer to switch between Japanese and two other languages. The long press on the Google Japanese keyboard is a neat trick; I, too, like the keyboard, and this will save me a bit of time.

    For English and Swedish, the best one I've tried so far is the Xperia international keyboard. It lets me write both languages simultaneously, without having to switch manually. It seems fairly good at guessing which language I use at the moment based on the past few words, though it has a few peculiarities (it will always give me "Thé", an old-fashioned Swedish spelling of "tea", when I want to write the English definite article "the") . And, unfortunately it does not have the space-bar switch, so I have to go to the notification bar a lot.

  2. I think that Kii allows switching between three language, but I have yet to determine wether it has good Japanese support. The English portion seems to be a fork of the android keyboard.

  3. Swiftkey has 0 support for Japanese (checked last time a few weeks ago), so it's not really an option. This is one of the few things where IOS still wins over Android. The changing input with a long-press of an spacebar is very close but not quite.

    That said, I have to say the excellent swyping support from the google keyboard (which works nicely with en-uk and fi) and then the google japanese input combo is so close that I stopped minding. As long as I don't have to go to notifications.

  4. With the Xperia keyboard I _really_ like that I don't have to switch at all. I can just type - and type English with the Swedish layout I'm used to. That's makes it well worth the inconvenience of switching to and from Japanese to me.

  5. Which is the least used language? If it's Japanese, then it would be worth your while to continue as is. If not, then you'd be like me using either 1) substandard English input on a Japanese wnn keyboard, 2) substandard Japanese on an English keyboard, or 3) switching keyboards.

  6. ORLY? I didn't realize that. I tried to look into it. The desription on the play store has this:

    - Enable up to three languages at once.
    - Naturally combine languages without having to change a setting.
    - SwiftKey supports contextual prediction in 61 languages and counting.
    See http://www.swiftkey.net/en/#features for full list of supported languages.

    Following the link gives me a nice shiny dynamic website that gives me absolutely no information on supported languages.

  7. you have to dig for it http://www.swiftkey.net/en/keyboard/

    US English

    UK English

    AU English

    CA English
















    French (CA)

    French (FR)





















    Persian (Farsi)


    Portuguese (BR)

    Portuguese (PT)






    Spanish (ES)

    Spanish (Latin America)

    Spanish (US)









  8. Honestly, I don't know. English is probably most used, due to online interactions like this. I use AEdict a lot, and do some Japanese email so Swedish is less used than Japanese overall. But the ability to write English using a Swedish-layout keyboard is worth a lot to me.

  9. As usual Nicholas, you're more helpful than most company's official information, and you have more patience. If I follow a link that is purporting to lead to a site with particular information, and that information is not there, then I usually close the page.

  10. It is indeed really annoying to see that no developer is able to propose a decent multilanguage keyboard, while it exists on windows or mac for decades... the Japanese part of Swype is terrible...

  11. I am using Smart Keyboard Pro and its Japanese IME is good enough. You can enable a button in your keyboard to switch between Japanese and English, it allows you to have a "dictionary" that learns from your usage pattern (and even allowed you to input new words), and its prediction is better than some other Japanese keyboards I used (including Xperia's Japanese keyboard). It is a paid app, tho, but well worth the price. .___.

  12. Hi. I would like to be a contributor on your blog. Could you please contact me on japanwikidonate@gmail.com to discuss this? (and please delete this comment). For example I now want to write an article about the vicious cycle of moving from one carrier to the other via MNP etc.

  13. Heavy user of Japanese/English/German mixed input here. A few tips:

    - There is an upcoming version of SwiftKey that will allow Japanese input. I am in the non-public beta program but I have to say that it sucks right now and I can't use it as my daily driver.

    - Currently I use Secure Settings (http://goo.gl/NCoJJ) to directly switch IMEs without having to open the standard selection box. It requires root and an automation app like tasker, Llama, E-Robot etc. I'm using tasker with LMT (http://goo.gl/29Of4) to quickly switch. LMT also allows for app-switching similar to Alt-Tab in Windows, which is a blessing for jumping between two apps. If you don't like the pie menu and have a more recent android device, you might want to consider using Assistant Even for Tasker (http://goo.gl/ZDgolr) to replace the Google Now swiping action from the home button (or doubleclick for devices with hardware buttons) with an IME switch.

    - You could also use something like Pressy as a dedicated IME switcher, which is really neat: http://get.pressybutton.com/ I haven't tried it myself, but considering that my headphone jack is mostly empty, I might give it a shot sometime.

    - With tasker you can, of course also have a dedicated keyboard per app. So if you know that you'll be writing only Japanese while chatting in Line, you can have your device switch automatically to your Japanese IME of choice when entering the app and back to English when leaving.

  14. SwiftKey now has Japanese support but it's in beta. Japanese predictions are better than Swype. I can now type 泉岳寺 without changing keyboards.

  15. http://vip.swiftkey.net/index.php?app=core&module=global&section=register

  16. If you want, use "andoru" as your referrer!

  17. Swiftkey is starting a beta for Japanese. I am still trying to enroll in the beta, without success so far... but this is encouraging news!

  18. How about Multi-ling? I use it for Chinese, English, Japanese.

  19. Tirathat Yim VirojskulchaiAugust 28, 2014 at 11:09 PM

    Wow! such a great idea, Next time I go to Japan, I will try to find a second hand docomo phone, buy a B-mobile SIM and try your method. Thank you.

  20. Swiftkey has now integrated Chinese into the officially supported language. There's still a Japanese beta fork that you'll need to install extra if you need it. We're getting closer though.

  21. that no longer works....what happens is google says device not supported, even for a true vanilla Nexus 7 (rooted or unrooted) device.