Following a few days worth of rumours, Microsoft announced yesterday that it has acquired SwiftKey, a London-based startup behind one of the most popular ‘predictive’ keyboard apps on the market.
Although specific terms of the acquisition remain undisclosed, most analysts put the deal value as just below $250 million. Several reports also claim Microsoft secured the deal amid several other prospective buyers including Apple, as of recently ‘only’ the second most valuable company in the world.
Why did Microsoft acquire SwiftKey?
There are several reasons why the acquisition likely makes sense for the PC giant. For one, it’s certainly not the first time Microsoft’s attempted to penetrate the market for mobile productivity apps. In summer of 2015, it added Wunderlist, a widely-successful planning app to its growing mobile portfolio. Year before, the company acquired Accompli, a beloved alternative for native email apps, and pretty much released it verbatim as Outlook for iOS a few months later.
In any case, it seems Microsoft is very much interested in dominating the productivity category, even going as far as purchasing apps that serve as direct alternatives to their own established product lines.
Furthermore, it’s no secret Microsoft is seriously jealous at Siri. Despite incremental progress, the company has yet to position Cortana – it’s own digital assistant – as a household name on Android. However, by integrating it with the keyboard app, Microsoft would be able to leverage SwiftKey’s massive fan base to boost the use of Cortana as well. A similar strategy is already being tested with Wunderlist at the moment.
Finally, at the end of the day, this deal is certainly about much more than just a keyboard app. Although SwiftKey made its name as a ‘smart’ alternative to the native keyboard, their ambitions are declaratively much bigger.
The founding team conducts a lot of internal R&D, pioneering various methods and procedures involving AI, NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and machine learning. Back in 2014, the company even collaborated with Stephen Hawking, developing a new interface that would help him communicate twice as fast as anything currently on the market.
SwiftKey’s primary consumer-facing product is also constantly evolving. A few months back, the company said it’s working on an experimental new method which would use ‘artificial neural networks’ to predict and edit language. The app also syncs with the cloud, so the more platform you use SwiftKey on, the ‘smarter’ its suggestions become.
It’s very likely that Microsoft’s interest in SwiftKey stems mainly from their proven expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning, which they can leverage and integrate into a slew of its own products. Further to that point, Microsoft’s CEO recently announced ‘the creation of an intelligent cloud platform’ to be one of their main areas of focus for the foreseeable future. SwiftKey seems to fit that sentiment perfectly.