Microsoft Makes AI Play With Deal for SwiftKey

The developer of a popular app for typing on mobile devices is the latest U.K. company with advanced AI capabilities to be snapped up by Silicon Va...
Matthew HellerFebruary 3, 2016

Microsoft is ramping up its commitment to artificial intelligence by acquiring SwiftKey, the U.K. developer of an app that uses predictive technology to simplify typing on mobile keyboards.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed but the Financial Times, citing people familiar with the matter, said Microsoft paid $250 million. Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock, who founded SwiftKey in 2008 when both were in their 20s, will each make upwards of $30 million from the buyout.

The startup’s technology suggests the next word a user is about to type based on analysis of their writing style. The company says its technology learns slang, nicknames and even which emojis its users prefer.

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“SwiftKey’s technology aligns with our vision for more personal computing experiences that anticipate our needs versus responding to our commands,” Microsoft said in a blog post.

According to the FT, SwiftKey is the latest in a string of U.K. companies with advanced artificial-intelligence capabilities to be snapped up by Silicon Valley. In 2014, Google paid 400 million for DeepMind and, last year, Apple acquired VocalIQ, whose AI software helps computers and people converse more naturally.

“There’s a war for talent in artificial intelligence — and companies like Google and Microsoft recognize the best talent is in the U.K.,” a source told the FT.

SwiftKey’s app was available for devices powered by Google’s Android software for years before coming to Apple’s iOS in 2014. “SwiftKey is easily one of the most popular keyboard apps available with over 300 million devices utilizing its functionalities and Android support for over 100 languages,” Ars Technica noted.

The FT reported that the deal is also is the latest step in Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s “plan to regain a foothold in mobile by acquiring popular productivity apps. In little more than a year, Microsoft has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buy Acompli, an email app, Wunderlist, maker of to-do list software, and Sunrise, a calendar app.”

Microsoft will continue developing SwiftKey for iOS and Android devices.