INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
Better Typing on Your Smartphone
We talked to David Eberle, CEO and Co-Founder of Typewise app about next generation smartphone keyboard and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
David Eberle: We did reasonably, thank you. During the initial lockdown here in Switzerland we enjoyed sensational weather, which was a great opportunity to play in the garden with our kids. After that, the schools and daycare centre remained open, so for our family life was pretty normal. But, physical interactions with others has remained very subdued with restrictions easing and tightening every couple of weeks. Thus, we’re looking forward to a (hopefully) more interactive spring and summer, maybe real gatherings will be possible again soon.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Typewise app.
David Eberle: My background is in digital strategy. As a strategy consultant, I’ve helped digitize international corporations across Europe and the US. As a student, I’ve spent many years in Asia, which gave me a different perspective on languages and cultures. During my MBA, which I did at INSEAD in Singapore, I learned more about entrepreneurship, which motivated me to pursue this venture full-time eventually. The real driver behind going full-time was my co-founder, whom I know from high school, and who quit his job as well to pursue Typewise.
The sparking idea came from my co-founder Janis. He pointed out that we continue using a keyboard layout designed for typewriters in the 19th century, not smartphones in the 21st. Moreover, the typewriter layout back then was designed with the intent to decrease the typing speed, to prevent the mechanical hammers from jamming. The fact that so far, no improvement has yet caught on was seen by both of us as a great opportunity, especially since we both found typing on our smartphones extremely annoying, but often had to answer emails on the go due to our jobs. Janis had been thinking about how to redesign a keyboard for mobile devices. That’s when the idea of hexagonal keys, whose geometric shape maximizes key sizes, was realized.
In discussions with well-known researchers in the field of human-machine interaction, we were able to quantify our initial concepts. We quickly understood that we needed to keep the learning curve very low with a new keyboard design, otherwise, it would never catch on. Using Kickstarter crowdfunding, we then funded the development of a prototype and built an initial beta user community, with whom we were then able to constantly refine the app until launch and continue doing so.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
David Eberle: In general, the digitization trend accelerated which meant our business did not suffer directly. We’re anyway a global team with half of our employees working outside of Switzerland, so we’re pretty used to remote working. However, because we reside in different countries, it’s crucial that we meet from time to time in person. Those meetings have all been cancelled. We tried many times only to postpone the trip again. While I don’t fear an immediate negative impact on us, I hope that with a globally orchestrated effort, we can come out stronger from this crisis and think about how to protect the vulnerable population in a better way. I think it’s also important that education can resume again, as we cannot simply stop sending our kids to school. That would have a dramatic effect on the next generation in the long term. Maybe my next venture will be in the educational field.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
David Eberle: In the end, you need to have faith that things turn out well. In an early-stage start-up, there are so many unknowns that every choice is and isn’t difficult. Already on your first day in the start-up, you’re running out of cash, so while it can at times feel terrifying to have an uncertain future, it’s much less uncertain than it was on the first day when you had nothing else than a vague idea.
What specific tools, software and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
David Eberle: To keep the team together we require a solid collaboration and management system. As a Microsoft for Startups supported company, we’re using Microsoft Teams for our communication, which works pretty well. We apply pretty rigid Scrum methodology across our teams and use Asana to manage our sprints and backlog using various Kanban boards. We then come together as a team in daily stand-ups and a weekly Demo Friday where we discuss the week’s results and also share funny stories. We complement these with virtual coffee chats and regular online gaming sessions, to add some socializing elements.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the games?
David Eberle: Our main competitors are the pre-installed keyboards by Apple, Google and Microsoft SwiftKey. Typewise is fast & accurate, our new autocorrection that will be released in March as Typewise 3.0 outperforms the incumbents and is even able to learn the user’s dialect and slang. Typewise is well-designed: our patented ‘honeycomb’ interface is specifically designed for two-thumb typing on smartphones, resulting in up to 5% fewer typos than conventional keyboards. Lastly, Typewise protects privacy 100%, no typing data leaves the device.
In addition to helping users type faster with fewer errors, Typewise can automatically recognize the language of which the user is currently typing and switch to that language, preventing any incorrect words from entering the user’s work, without having to change the language in the settings. This recognition software is so acutely sensitive, it even recognizes and assists users when they type in a dialect or use colloquialisms; this ground-breaking feature is currently available in 40+ languages, with more on the way. This new system provides a higher percentage of accurately corrected words than other leading keyboard players such as Gboard and SwiftKey. This ground-breaking autocorrection technology was jointly developed with top AI engineers from ETH Zurich, one of the world’s leading institutes for technology and engineering.
This complex technology has all been developed with AI algorithms that are capable of running offline, which safeguards user privacy. Most importantly, neither the Typewise app nor third-party apps can access any user data; a complete break from the existing market.
Typewise has already been downloaded over 50,000 times and is being used by 130,000 active users. The app has been named as a CES 2021 Innovation Awards Honoree.
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