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Olivier Plante, Fleksy: “the level of security built into mobile apps is critical in keeping private information safe”

As mobile phones become widely used for important daily tasks like verifying identities and making payments, experts emphasize that apps must be built with security in mind from the very beginning.

The increasing popularity of mobile security solutions like VPNs show, that smartphone users are growing more aware of the risks their devices might pose. However, not everyone understands that even the most innocent-looking keyboard apps can have serious data privacy issues. Our guest today explains that these days, not all online conversations are private, and user data can be used for a variety of different means.

To discuss the innovations and challenges in the field of keyboard software, we invited Olivier Plante, the CEO of Fleksy – a company building the future of text input technologies.

What has your journey been like? How did the idea of Fleksy come about in 2015?

In 2015, my co-founders and I decided to build a smarter text input solution for mobile devices – a software keyboard that would “be able to read the typer's mind”, and be intuitive and predictive. The keyboard had to enable fast typing by granting the typer access to more features and functions while messaging.

Since 2015, we’ve continued to build on Fleksy’s vision and mission. After successfully completing our Seed funding round, Fleksy moved on to being recognized as one of the “Best Mobile Startups” – with our consumer keyboard app winning multiple awards for its intuitive design and functionality, including winning “Best Keyboard of The Year” in 2019.

Our journey has been filled with milestones we fondly look back on and celebrate daily as we make progress towards hitting our future goals. One such milestone is closing our Series A funding round, led by Inveready, with much success.

In terms of our latest venture, we’re currently on a journey to making the Fleksy Developer Platform as accessible as possible to indie developers and the likes – switching to a SaaS model to also further support our expansion into B2B service delivery.

Can you introduce us to your keyboard solutions? What are their key features?

Fleksy is a private white-label keyboard software development kit (SDK) that’s compatible with both iOS and Android. Our technology stack enables companies and developers to unlock the full potential of an easy keyboard integration. It’s worthy to mention that we don’t only hold the record for "fastest typing on a smartphone keyboard", but we also enable software developers to create highly efficient typing experiences for their respective end-users via the Fleksy Developer Platform.

By making use of our keyboard SDK, developers can build their own unique typing experiences on top of Fleksy’s existing technology.

It’s important to keep in mind that our services are two-fold, on the one hand, we have our B2B services and on the other, we have our B2C keyboard. Some of the overlapping solutions/features of Fleksy’s keyboard SDK include:

  • Private by design
  • Proven sticky typing keyboard (autocorrect, 81+ languages, next-word prediction, swipe input, and more)
  • Easy integrations with Developer-centric Templates
  • Support & maintenance

What would you consider the main issues with the keyboards available today?

One of the core issues is in regards to privacy, as many keyboards leverage all that’s being typed against you – for example, serving you medication ads because you somehow typed about it. We’ve all felt like an app listens to your conversations based on the targeted ads it sends you, as a result, your privacy may feel invaded or compromised. This is why Fleksy takes your data protection and privacy very seriously. We want to make it very clear that all you type as an end-user of the Fleksy iOS and Android app is never seen by anyone.

There’s a lot to say about cyber security and privacy when it comes to keyboards, however, simplicity in design is also a key consideration. Typing should be made as effective as possible, the end-user shouldn’t have to break their typing rhythm in order to find a shortcut or redirection button. A glitch in design can cause the end-user great frustration when it comes to interacting with the keyboard, that’s why “keeping it clean” is highly important.

How did the recent global events affect your field of work?

As we’re emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing more inquiries into touchless interactions. In our society, it’s common practice to type on a touchscreen or some sort of interactive digital display. For example, using a smartphone keyboard or interacting with public installations like touchpad surfaces to perform certain actions.

Touchscreens all incorporate some element of a common technology called “capacitive touch”, meaning that the touch sensor or screen display responds to user contact and changes according to the touch action. It’s understandably a concern that touching public displays causes a heightened possibility of bacterial and viral infections.

In effect, keyboard developers are exploring touchless technologies that allow users to control a digital system with motion gestures. For example, by waving your hand or even by eye movement. Fleksy brings its 10+ years of experience in the matter.

What are some of the best practices organizations should follow when developing mobile applications?

Preparing to scale, it’s not always easy to build an app thinking about its big bright future, and in this sense, prioritize free tools versus paid ones. We think that building to scale is preferable because if the app captures a lot of traction, adding new developers to the team on a “hard to scale” codebase, many issues may arise and slow down development.

Question the user feedback versus your long-term goals, listening to users is important – yes, but oftentimes you can fall into a trap of doing what a few users want and lose the entire purpose of your app. Some users may want something specific for them but it does not resonate with what the others want, thus creating more noise and complexity for another user persona. The key is to find the right balance between what I call the value for business and value for the consumer.

Don’t forget about your business model, start small with some tests or probes of how your business will make money. First users are always loving you so much that they will pay the moon to keep you around. Instead, focus on the ones that don’t want to pay, listen to why they want this for free, what would make them pay, etc. Then, start testing a few ideas via email, and chat – and find the right balance.

What would you consider the most serious security threats affecting mobile apps nowadays?

It is not easy to define one unique threat on mobile apps as there are a lot of factors to take into consideration, such as cyber security. Data breaches and impersonation attacks are unfortunately becoming more common, the financial sector especially being targeted by fraudsters and hackers. The level of security built into mobile apps is critical in keeping private information safe. For example, an additional layer of user authentication is a simple, yet effective, way in keeping information secure.

How or where user data is stored is another serious matter to take into account. Misconduct greatly affects user confidentiality. Not only should the app user be aware of the basic terms and conditions regarding how private data is handled, but the app itself should also be totally transparent in its disclosure. It often happens that T&C’s are written in such a way that the app user is in fact freely (and legally) handing over sensitive information, without them realizing that their privacy is in jeopardy.

As the world gets more connected, what safety tools do you think everyone should have in place to keep their devices safe?

The initial and most important tip for keeping your devices safe is to update all your devices quickly when there is a new release. The latest software update is supposed to be the most secure version of the app or device. Bug fixes and performance improvements point to new safety features, meaning that threats of security breaches are limited.

As we become aware of new security threats, updated counteractions can be taken to keep user information secure. Setting your smartphone to automatically update itself and the apps you install might seem like an insignificant, data-consuming action. However, it is the first step in securing your device against cyber threats.

What advancements and innovations in the app development field do you hope to see in the near future?

With new technological advancements hitting the market on a daily basis, we’re already noticing how smartphones, with their apps, are becoming the center for everyday actions like authentication activities and making payments. Across iOS and Android, we’re hoping to see a stronger focus being placed on intuitive devices.

What this means is that mobile devices will potentially become even more compatible with custom user perseverance than they already are. For example, machine learning and AI have already made it possible for our devices to predict our actions ahead of us performing them. Essentially, we hope to see more developers coding their apps to accommodate more intuitive learning aspects.

Since mobile devices are essentially our go-to “remote” to perform most of our digital activities, the more personalized the device becomes, the easier it is for its user to perform said activities with greater accuracy and more swiftly.

What does the future hold for Fleksy?

The Fleksy team follows a common vision where typing on any touchscreen in the future will be on Fleksy technologies. We have exciting new developments in the pipeline – currently we're working on improving the development cycle for developers so that high-performing typing experiences can follow.

As mentioned earlier, there’s definitely an opportunity to leverage the future of “surfaceless typing”. With each new innovation and update, we make regarding the Fleksy SDK, we’re closer to totally redirecting the way in which people interact with touch displays.

In the near future, we’re focused on optimizing the development cycle for developers. Instead of them having to wait months on licensing agreements, we’re speeding up the process with our on-demand developer's platform. By doing so, we hope to save developers time and resources when building their technologies.

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