(Credit: SwiftKey/Microsoft)

As Google has said many times over the years, speed is brutally important on the Internet. If web pages takes just a few fractions of a second too long to load, browsing that website can feel a little frustrating. That inconvenience, even though it should barely register, can still motivate a site visitor to go elsewhere -- perhaps to your competitor. But websites aren't the only digital service where microseconds matter.

SwiftKey, the maker of a third-party virtual keyboard for Android and iOS, has just announced a fresh update to its popular app; it says that loading speed has improved by an average of 20 percent, frame rendering is now up to 50 percent faster, yet the app remains one of the most compact of its type, in terms of download size.

SEE: The Top iPhone Keyboards

Slowly loading virtual keyboards aren't an issue that we encounter very much during our app testing, but it can be noticeable on older devices, particularly those with a low amount of onboard memory. If you're a frequent texter, an on-screen keyboard that snaps into view whenever you need it can be very helpful.

Frame rendering is a little trickier to explain. You see, a standard mobile phone display refreshes its screen with a new image 60 times per second. This happens so quickly that the human eye won't detect it, but each of those refreshes represents one frame. If a mobile developer wants touch interaction to feel smooth, their app must be able to supply an image 60 times per second as well.

If the screen and the app don't both operate at 60 frames per second, the lack of synchronization can make the interface feel sluggish.

How do the SwiftKey developers verify their app improvements?

In the announcement, SwiftKey also details some of its testing procedures. First, the company keeps a collection of mobile phones in an in-house testing lab, and they run each version of their app through the paces, before releasing it to the public.

Second, the company closely monitors real-world performance after an update has been released, to confirm that its lab testing worked or to address glitches that didn't surface during their in-house evaluation.

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Last but not least, it also tests against its competitors' virtual keyboards, so that it can make sure that the app is at least keeping pace with its rivals in areas such as speed, stability, security and aesthetics.

SwiftKey used to cost a few dollars, but steady competition from Google and Apple -- plus an acquisition by Microsoft in 2016 -- changed the landscape, and you can now download it onto your phone for free.

Takeaways

  • SwiftKey announced a new update for the virtual keyboard app, which it says has boosted its loading speed and refresh speed.
  • This competitor to Gboard and the Apple virtual keyboard is available for free and was purchased by Microsoft in 2016.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.