Microsoft already has a “smart” virtual keyboard for both tablets and smartphones. In fact, it was just recently rumored that it would be bringing its keyboard to Android and iOS, the latter with possibly some interesting special features. So it might, at first, be surprising to hear about its acquisition of UK-based SwiftKey, makers of one of the more popular mobile keyboards. But old Redmond isn’t paying $250 million just for a keyboard. It is, in truth, more interested in the AI talent and software behind it.
There are loads of mobile keyboards in the market with predictive input features. Google, Apple, and Microsoft all have one. But SwiftKey is one of if not the only one that can boast of a keyboard powered by a neural network AI. That has had a tremendous positive effect in its performance and prestige, to the point that it had the honor of developing the language software for Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair computer. The accuracy and learning capabilities of SwiftKey’s keyboard definitely got Microsoft’s attention.
SwiftKey co-founder Jon Reynolds said in 2013 that they see themselves as a language technology company, which just happens to find concrete expression in a virtual keyboard. Coincidentally, that seems to exactly be what Microsoft is looking for, especially with the so-called AI Wars heating up. Both Google and Apple have already snatched up AI companies over the years, leaving Microsoft weaponless in the fight. At least until now.
SwiftKey’s AI could be put to tremendous use in many of Microsoft’s products, but Cortana definitely comes to mind immediately. Natural language processing, machine learning, and predictive technology can all play a part in making Cortana, who some already consider better than either Siri or Google Now, a whole lot smarter.
Details of the deal, or even a confirmation, have yet to be announced. One thing that SwiftKey users might want to know is whether the keyboard still has a future. Sunrise, the calendar app that Microsoft acquired in 2015, was already marked for discontinuation less than a year later. But if Microsoft does decide to continue SwiftKey as a standalone app, Windows 10 users, both on mobile and tablets, might also want to know if they will finally be able to get the app in the near future.
SOURCE: Financial Times