Microsoft is set to buy popular software keyboard developer SwiftKey even though it already developed its own software keyboard called Word Flow.
Microsoft’s executive vice president for technology and research, Harry Shum, confirmed the deal on Wednesday, following a day of rumors on Tuesday. Although exact details of the deal have not been released, the Financial Times reported that Microsoft will pay around $250 million for SwiftKey.
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Microsoft acquires Swiftkey’s advanced software keyboard and staff
Software keyboards allow users to type faster by dragging their finger between letters rather than touching individual keys. SwiftKey uses artificial intelligence to speed typing up even further, and the company announced an improved version of its software last October.
While most similar systems perform the hard computing on a server and transmit data to your smartphone via the cloud, SwiftKey;s Neural Alpha keyboard crunches the numbers on the phone itself, which helps maintain privacy and security.
Some commentators are surprised by the move given the fact that Microsoft already has its own software keyboard, Word Flow, which will soon be released for Android and iOS. SwiftKey is already available on both platforms, but Shum said that Microsoft would not shut down the company’s iOS or Android apps and would continue their development.
Deal may be more about research potential than existing software
In addition, he said, “[We will] explore scenarios for the integration of the core technology across the breadth of our product and services portfolio,” which may mean that Word Flow is removed from Windows platforms.
As well as the software, Microsoft will take on SwiftKey staff who work in London, San Francisco and Seoul. These staff carry out a lot of internal research on matters related to artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing, and the move could be more about acquiring those capabilities rather than a consumer app.
SwiftKey also syncs across multiple devices using the cloud, which means it gets more intelligent the more devices you add. Cloud capability is a major part of Microsoft strategy, and CEO Satya Nadella has said that working on “the intelligent cloud platform” is one of the company’s most important investment areas.