Microsoft has London-based startup SwiftKey famed for their predictive keyboard mobile app in a deal worth an estimated $250 million.
In a statement on the company’s blog, founders Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock, wrote: ‘We’re excited to announce an important milestone on SwiftKey’s journey.
The startup, which makes keyboard apps for Android and iOS devices acquired the makers of already boasts of some 300 million users.
SwiftKey was started by Cambridge graduates in 2008, launching its predictive auto-correcting keyboard app on Android in 2010 and iOS in 2014.
At the end of last year, SwiftKey launched a keyboard app for Android which uses neural networks rather than its classic AI algorithms to predict text.
Neural Alpha, which has been available on the Google Play app store since October, can complete whole sentences, and someday entire emails, for you.
It looks at clusters of words, instead of strings, which means it can understand the meaning of the sentence before you fully type it.
It also allows it to predict words that have never been seen in a given sentence context during the learning phase.
This new version is unique in that its predictions are calculated directly on the mobile device, and unlike Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, there is no need to communicate with the cloud.
Microsoft is believed to have a keen interest in the firm’s artificial intelligence research, including its recently launched Neural Alpha app, which could make its Cortana assistant more accurate.
Microsoft launched Cortana in 2014 and it was named after a synthetic intelligence character in Microsoft’s Halo video game.
It was launched as a rival to Apple’s Siri and is currently available in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese.
“In this cloud-first, mobile-first world, SwiftKey’s technology aligns with our vision for more personal computing experiences that anticipate our needs versus responding to our commands, and directly supports our ambition to reinvent productivity by leveraging the intelligent cloud,” Harry Shum, EVP of technology and research, said in a blog post. He says that SwiftKey estimates that its users have saved nearly 10 trillion keystrokes, across 100 languages, saving more than 100,000 years in combined typing time.
SwiftKey had started as a paid app but eventually moved into a freemium model to attract more users. It’s not clear what kinds of returns the startup was getting on that model. More to the point: joining a much larger platform like Microsoft will give the company the space to develop tech that may fit into a bigger business plan that relies less on Swiftkey as a standalone service.
SwiftKey had raised just under $22 million from investors that include Index, Accel and Octopus. From what we understand, some of those investors realised there was a window of opportunity with Microsoft when the Windows software giant started acquiring other companies focused on mobile productivity and intelligent processing that leveraged cloud architecture.
SwiftKey then proceeded to head-hunted James Bromley, then MD of MailOnline, to come on board as COO to shepherd the process of dealing with Microsoft and other potential buyers.