We’re on the verge of a linguistic revolution, made possible by the fact that Apple has opened up its iOS operating system to allow third-party keyboards. One of the first entrants will be PopKey, a project out of the WorkshopX creative studio based in Ottawa, which has created on-demand social photo printing service CanvasPop, among others. The Betaworks-style operation’s new project came together because founder Adrian Salamunovic got in the habit of sending animated ‘reaction’ GIFs in conversations with friends, and wanted an easier way to do that then opening Safari, searching for the appropriate image, copying that, and then pasting it in Messages or Mail.
Apple’s keyboard development tools allow a significant amount of leeway, making it possible to create an embedded search widget that lets users browse and find animated GIFs for anything they hope to express. PopKey curates a growing collection of GIFs to choose from, including ones that cover every basic reaction a user could want, according to Salamunovic, and then they stamp the image with a watermark to hopefully create a viral feedback loop that draws others to the keyboard software.
That’s a key ingredient, because despite the convenience of using the keyboard, installing it is far from easy – Apple has essentially buried the third-party keyboard options deep in Settings, meaning only users who really want them will be able to get access.
Salamunovic still thinks plenty of people will embrace PopKey, which does indeed liven up otherwise boring text conversations, as you can see from the sample screens in this post. The founder was using the software and taking screens from his end, while I responded on my own device using my stone age tools, as I don’t yet have access to the PopKey software.
PopKey is aiming to launch in time for iOS 8, which arrives on September 17, just a couple of days before the launch of the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. It’ll be a completely free app, and the revenue potential later on will come from offering special content packs and perhaps looking at co-branded opportunities, where GIFs from upcoming movies could be paid for by studios, for instance. In the short-term, it’ll be free and full-featured right away, with the aim of spreading it as far as possible, and users will even be able to upload their own GIFs to include in the collection and share around.
I’m already preparing for a time when what I need to say can’t be expressed in clumsy words alone – and PopKey has anticipated that need. All that remains to be seen is how many other forms of unique new self-expression come along with the custom keyboard craze, and how many of these stick around for the long haul.