The concept of Swype is pretty simple: rather than individually pecking out each letter on a touch screen phone, you slide your fingers from letter to letter and the software works out what you meant. While Swype was made available as a limited beta for all Android models earlier this year, the company’s main business model is to license the system to phone manufacturers. As such, I put it through its paces on the Samsung Galaxy S. (You can install the similar SlideIT on most Android phones.)
While it feels a little improbable that Swype could actually recognise what you intended as your finger drifts all over the screen, it actually does a pretty stellar job of recognising what you mean most of the time. I totally agree with Nick over at Gizmodo that you need to run through the tutorial first to work out the quirks of typing capitals and double-letters, but after that it's all fairly straightforward, and your speed does improve with a little practice.
There are a couple of annoying limitations. As Nick noted, it's not much use in landscape mode: it works well enough, but the process of typing actually takes longer given that the keys are further apart. Shorter words seem less amenable to recognition: I kept having to retype or confirm 'it', for instance.
I was slightly appalled to discover that Swype doesn't recognise many common swearwords; I promise you I don't want to type 'duck' or 'count' that often. Sure, you can add them yourself, but the reality is people swear when they communicate (especially via text messages) and I don't want my input system passing implied judgement on what I can or can't say.
More tellingly, while it does feel kind of magical, it also feels kind of slow: after each word, there's a definite pause while the system works out what you mean and you work out what it's got wrong. This definitely interrupts the rhythm of writing. I wouldn't want to enter huge chunks of text this way, but I guess I would prefer this kind of touch input to the standard touch-screen keyboard found on Android devices (or iPhones). That said, I certainly couldn't use it to take notes at press conferences, which is something I do quite regularly on my BlackBerry.
I recognise that most people don't want to write large screeds of text on their mobile, and in that context Swype is definitely appealing. I don't think I'd limit myself to choosing Android phones that featured it, but if it is available, it's a handy extra touch.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman wonders if screen wipe manufacturers have seen profits rise in the last couple of years. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.