Microsoft has acquired a London-based startup behind one of the most popular smartphone keyboard apps on the market that crucially uses artificial intelligence techniques to predict what people are typing.
The deal was confirmed by SwiftKey and Microsoft though neither mentioned the $250 million price tag that has been reported by several places. While this is seen as a lot of money for a keyboard app — considering Microsoft is planning to bring its own Word Flow keyboard to iOS soon — the crucial aspect of this deal is seen as the expertise in artificial intelligence (AI) that Microsoft is acquiring.
With everyone from Facebook and Google to Apple seeking to snap up the best AI talent available, Microsoft is bringing all of SwiftKey's 150 employees to work under Harry Shum, the company's head of technology and research.
"SwiftKey’s predictive technology aligns with Microsoft’s investments and ambition to develop intelligent systems that can work more on the user’s behalf and under their control," Shum said in a statement announcing the deal.
Shum said that the individual smartphone apps would continue to be developed at Microsoft but the "core technology" built up by SwiftKey will be used "across the breadth of our product and services portfolio." One of those areas will be with its own Word Flow keyboard, which holds the record for typing the fastest text message.
SwiftKey is the latest acquisition by Microsoft in the mobile productivity space, with the company previously acquiring Wunderlist and Acompli. By buying up the best talent in this area, Microsoft will be hoping to gain an advantage over its rivals in the smartphone market as it seeks to establish itself as a major player on Android and iOS, while its own Windows 10 Mobile (previously Windows Phone) efforts prove ineffectual.
SwiftKey was founded by Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock in 2008 and is currently in use on over 300 million iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. Prior to Microsoft's acquisition, it had received $21.6 million in funding from Octopus Ventures and Index Ventures while Stephen Fry was an early angel investor and flag-bearer for the popular app, including appearing in this video.
The company's founders claim their keyboard has helped users save an estimated 10 trillion keystrokes across 100 different languages, which adds up to over 100,000 years of reclaimed typing time. "Our number one focus has always been to build the best possible products for our users," founders Reynolds and Medlock said, in a joint statement on the company's website. "This will not change. Our apps will continue to be available on Android and iOS, for free. We are as committed as ever to improving them in new and innovative ways."