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Microsoft's SwiftKey Purchase Is About Artificial Intelligence, Not Software Keyboards

Cortana could take advantage of the rich set of contextual information that can be gleaned from what a user is typing.


Microsoft’s purchase of Britain’s SwiftKey software keyboard company has less to do with the mechanics of entering text on a touchscreen and everything to do with the growing role that context is playing in artificial intelligence.

While it has its own Word Flow predictive keyboard technology, Microsoft has been diving deeper into intelligent assistance with Cortana. SwiftKey had always talked about the potential for the keyboard to be a useful space to take action, in addition to just entering letters or words, based on the rich set of contextual information that can be gleaned from what a user is typing.

The deal, a source confirmed, is in the range of $250 million and is expected to be formally announced Wednesday London time. However, the Financial Times got the scoop, reporting it earlier Tuesday.

SwiftKey emerged as a top rival to Swype, which was bought several years back by Nuance. Its keyboards are available for Android and the iPhone and its technology is used within BlackBerry 10 devices.

The purchase shows that Microsoft continues to be willing to buy its way into a better mobile position, especially with software that works on rival devices. In recent months the company has purchased email program Acompli and calendar app Sunrise.

The move comes as Microsoft has scaled back its Windows Phone ambitions, slashing thousands of jobs and writing off virtually the entire price it paid to acquire Nokia’s mobile phone unit.

Update: Microsoft and SwiftKey have confirmed the deal in separate blog posts. Also worth a read is this Medium essay from Accel’s Rich Wong (Accel was one of SwiftKey’s main investors.)

And for all the SwiftKey users out there, the company reaffirmed its commitment to keeping the app free and available for iOS. The next question is how and when Microsoft will merge SwiftKey’s technology with its homegrown Word Flow.

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