Mobile

Meet SwiftKey, the virtual keyboard Google would be crazy not to acquire

Google has been placing a lot of emphasis on its virtual keyboard for Android, and a lot of the recent changes have been inspired by startup SwiftKey.

“We’re doing very interesting things that have caught the attention of people all the way up to the top of Android… and Google,” said SwiftKey chief marketing officer Joe Braidwood in a call with VentureBeat this morning.

The company focuses on the artificial intelligence of text correction and prediction, and many of its hallmark features have been appropriated in recent versions of various Android virtual keyboards.

While we were anonymously tipped that Google was, in fact, looking into acquiring the startup, Braidwood demurred during our talk today.

“We haven’t done anything directly with them, which is a shame,” he said, adding that he knows the company’s work is on the Android team’s radar.

“There are people close to Google who’ve told us Google would be mad not to acquire us,” Braidwood continued.

“Google focuses on engineering, and if you look at the areas of expertise they have around natural language processing… that is, as its core, the same technology [Google founders] Sergey [Brin] and Larry [Page] were using to improve search. And that’s what we’re doing… There are symmetries between what we’re doing now and what Google’s been doing for the past 10 years.”

A Google spokesperson said, “Thanks for checking in; however, we don’t comment on rumor or speculation.”

The company started as a research project three years ago; it started hiring engineers and working on a product a year and a half ago.

Essentially, SwiftKey’s software uses powerful natural language processing tools in the background to parse the way humans use and organize words and groups of words.”That’s a very difficult problem, one that has been researched for decades in various science labs,” said Braidwood.

Modeling the way you, yourself, use language as opposed to how people in general use language means that SwiftKey takes into account not just how you text but also how your group and spell words on Facebook, Twitter and Gmail.

“On top of that, we continually model the way they use the keyboard itself,” said Braidwood. “If you loop all those things into each other, what you get is an intelligent infrastructure that can determine your next words. Where there’s ambiguity, it looks at context and offers predictions and corrections that are actually useful.”

So instead of getting predictions one word at a time, you can see what phrases you’d be most likely to type next. By comparison, Braidwood said competitor and fellow Android virtual keyboard maker Swype is “just a user interface.”

“They don’t model the way you use language, and that’s the big difference between us and Swype.”

Another big difference is that Swype’s big acquisition had already happened. The company got scooped up for $102.5 million earlier this month by communications company Nuance, according to SEC filings.

In the meantime, the SwiftKey team is flattered by the imitation they see in other virtual keyboards but is remaining focused on creating better products and features. “We’re at a stage where we’re planning vigorously for the future,” said Braidwood, who confided that he’d been in meetings all day.

“We’re releasing stuff in January and February that’s going to blow people’s minds.”

Also, at a recent Android event, a SwiftKey user beat the Guinness Book of World Records record for fastest SMS texting.

“It was a bit of fun more than anything,” Braidwood told us. “About 50 people entered; they could use any Android keyboard… Some were using a hard keyboard, some were using the Android keyboard. No one using Swype made it into the finals.”


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