Redmond confirmed today that it has acquired London-based Swiftkey, which makes a predictive keyboard powered by artificial intelligence (AI) used on hundreds of millions of smartphones, for a reported $250 million.
Although Swiftkey and Microsoft confirmed the deal today, they didn’t disclose financial details. The purchase price was reported by the Financial Times. From the end of fiscal 2014, Swiftkey had sales of just over $12 million, according to the company's most recent annual report.
Will Join Microsoft Research
Switftkey is one of several British companies dealing in advanced artificial-intelligence technology to be purchased by American companies. Last year Apple bought AI software company VocalIQ, and two years ago Google bought DeepMind, Dark Blue Labs and Vision Factory.
Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock, who founded Swiftkey in 2008, should each make at least $30 million from the buyout, according to reports. Swiftkey’s team will join Microsoft Research and report to division chief Harry Shum. Swiftkey has more than 150 employees in London, San Francisco and Seoul.
The Swiftkey app suggests the next word a user is about to type based on analysis of the user's writing style. The app is capable of learning slang, nicknames and even which emojis a user likes to use, according to the company. Swiftkey’s Android keyboard supports more than 100 languages, including several Chinese and Indian dialects.
Eight-year-old SwiftKey is known among Android users as a replacement keyboard app for phones and tablets. But it is also known as a maker of a software development kit for third parties to integrate its language-learning tech into their own services.
SwiftKey has been known for doing a lot of its research in-house, not only when it comes to artificial intelligence, but also machine learning, and natural-language processing. Presumably it’s that technology and research capability that Microsoft wants to deploy, more so than having access to the relatively modest income earned by the Swiftkey app.
Last year, SwiftKey said it was working on an experimental app that uses artificial neural networks to predict and correct language. Those networks are modeled after the workings of the human brain, allowing for better predictive ability.
300 Million Devices
Although Swiftkey is installed on more than 300 million devices, the company has struggled to establish a consistent identity. It started out selling its predictive keyboard app for $4, but then switched to a free download model two years ago, selling extras such as themes and personalization instead. The Swiftkey app also comes pre-installed on devices made by Samsung and BlackBerry.
Swiftly is available for iOS (pictured above) and Android devices but not yet for Windows phones. In the aftermath of the acquisition, Microsoft will probably integrate Swiftkey’s technology across Windows software, according to Shum. SwiftKey for iOS was released in late 2014 after Apple opened up to third-party, system-wide keyboards.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has made no secret of his desire to gain ground in the mobile sector by buying well-known productivity apps. Since the beginning of last year, Microsoft has acquired e-mail app Acompli, to-do list software Wunderlist and calendar app Sunrise.
Read more on: Microsoft
, Mobile App
, Artificial Intelligence
, Machine Learning