Microsoft aims to up its AI game with $250m SwiftKey purchase

3 Feb 2016

With aims of increasing its AI firepower that little bit more, Microsoft is closing in on a $250m deal to purchase SwiftKey, a third-party mobile predictive keyboard that uses machine-learning.

While Apple previously took the step of allowing third-party keyboards to work on its iPhones, this recent news from Microsoft seems to show that the company is aiming to up its own game, rather than leaving it up to other, smaller companies.

And now, according to The Financial Times, Microsoft believes SwiftKey, founded in 2008 in London, will give it a significant foothold in the future with regard to what is commonly known as ‘productivity apps’.

SwiftKey is perhaps one of the most widely-used predictive, swipe keyboards, which allows the user to swipe out words on a keyboard without lifting their finger and then uses machine learning to predict what word you want to use.

However, the keyboard has until now not been made available on Windows Phone, with Android being its main source of users, followed by iOS.

More than just keyboard technology

In fact, Microsoft’s purchase of the company – one of the largest tech purchases from a UK tech company in recent years – is largely a continuation of Silicon Valley’s push to snap up the companies that are doing rather well with AI technology.

After all, SwiftKey’s stats appear to show an impressive user base, with 300m of its keyboards installed globally, largely helped by its decision to go with the ‘freemium’ model with purchasable themes supporting 100 languages.

Perhaps of most interest, however, will be how Microsoft plans to use this considerable purchase, with the likelihood being that the resources available to the company will allow work on the keyboard itself to continue, while tapping into the arguably more valuable resource of its AI technology.

After all, the company, as recently as last October, debuted its more advanced AI software, which uses neural networks to better predict what someone is likely to say in a message, rather than requiring the user to keep going back through their message to see if it correctly added the words you wanted.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic