A Toast to Fleksy

There have been some welcome developments today with Fleksy, the ingenious little smart keyboard that dramatically speeds up text entry on your smartphone.
In January, Fleksy announced they were releasing a separate, VoiceOver-friendly, version of their app while they made significant changes to their technology that would make accessibility unstable.
I blogged my concern about this approach at the time, particularly when the VO version was being sold as a good thing for blind users, rather than a temporary necessary evil.
I was then approached by Ioannis Verdelis, Fleksy’s CEO, who essentially said, “why don’t we record a conversation? Ask me anything, I’ll be frank and give you full answers”.
Serendipity is a beautiful thing. It just so happened that we were ready to launch Appcessible with its companion Talking Apps Podcast, so the interview with Ioannis became episode 1.
Ioannis explained that work on the SDK, which would allow third-party apps to integrate Fleksy at no cost to the developer, required some major changes under the hood. He set his company a firm deadline for restoring accessibility to the main Fleksy iOS app, and it was clear it was an ambitious goal. He hoped that the app would be accessible again in six months.
Three months have gone by since the release of Fleksy VO, and today, an accessible version of the main Fleksy app has been restored. In other words, they’ve delivered three months ahead of schedule.
I’m writing this post for a number of reasons. First and foremost, to say “well done” to Fleksy and let my readers know of the good news. Since my original blog post on this subject was a hot topic, it was only right to acknowledge that the issue has been addressed, and in a shorter timeframe than we were expecting.
Second, to tell you that the experience is a wee bit different from the Fleksy experience we’ve been used to. The keyboard is now smaller. It’s the same size as the standard iOS virtual keyboard. Perhaps some sort of large mode within the app might have been possible, but we may as well get used to the smaller keyboard, since this is the way the keyboard will appear in third-party apps. Already, you can see this in action in apps like Tweetings 2 and BlindSquare. It takes only a little getting used to.
Third, now that the SDK gives us a fully accessible experience, let’s encourage the developers of accessible apps to incorporate the Fleksy keyboard as an option. Because I make extensive use of Twitter lists, and Tweetlist is excellent at keeping your place in each list, Tweetlist is my iOS Twitter client of choice. I would love to see Fleksy in there.
And finally, I wanted to make some observations about advocacy. I want to thank Ioannis for reaching out to me after my blog post, for his willingness to take on board why some of the blind community were genuinely concerned, and to engage in constructive dialogue. He showed generosity and integrity. I could list a whole bunch of companies who I wish would behave similarly. Are you out there, Spotify?
Having talked with him and published that conversation, a small number of people criticised me for doing a U-turn or a flip flop when I published a second post saying I would install Fleksy VO and watch developments carefully. How sad. I installed Fleksy VO because I believed Ioannis was telling me the truth, that he would do all he could to restore accessibility to the main app. Not only has he justified my faith that he’d deliver, he exceeded my expectations.
The wider advocacy lesson here is that if you believe a point of principle is worth standing up for, you can do so with courtesy but firmness. Equally, when new information comes to light, you should be willing to act differently based on that new information, and what has happened today illustrates that point. I’d far rather be receptive to new information and be accused of a flip flop, than be intransigent and stubborn. Life really is easier to live when you do the former, I promise.
Well done Fleksy. Thank you for listening and for acting in such a timely manner. Your profile is so high that having such a prominent app universally accessible again can only be good news for the blind community. Now wouldn’t it be wonderful if Apple gives us a keyboard API in iOS 8, or just buys Fleksy and integrates it?

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