Microsoft has made a string of acquisitions under Satya Nadella, particularly of third-party productivity apps such as to-do app Wunderlist, calendar app Sunrise, and email app Acompli. And now, if a report from the Financial Times is to be believed, Microsoft has acquired the popular keyboard app SwiftKey for $250 million.
There has not been an official confirmation yet, but it is being speculated that this acquisition is targeted towards boosting the use of artificial intelligence in the upcoming home-built Word Flow smart keyboard for the Windows 10 Mobile platform.
There are more than 150 employees in SwiftKey working in London, San Francisco, and Seoul. These employees will reportedly join Microsoft Research to work under Harry Shum, the executive vice president of Microsoft’s Technology and Research group according to people close to the company.
London-based SwiftKey, which is incidentally available for only Android and iOS devices, is known for its hugely popular predictive keyboard powered by artificial intelligence. In fact, the app was once the top app in Google Play store and Apple store.
The app is able to accurately predict the next word typed by the user by analyzing their writing style. According to the company, its technology can also learn slang, nicknames and even which emojis its users prefer. It also claims to have saved nearly two trillion keystrokes and more than 23,000 years in the combined typing time.
Its Android keyboard reportedly supports more than 100 languages including Arabic, Icelandic, Welsh and several Chinese and Indian dialects. The company has also developed a special language model for Stephen Hawking and powers the computer attached to his wheelchair to assist him in speaking and writing his lectures and articles.
However, the company has not been able to come up with a sustainable business model. Initially, the app was offered at $4 but later switched to the free download version in 2014 offering only themes and personalization via in-app purchases.
The company has also partnered with OnePlus, Samsung, Xiaomi, and BlackBerry who pre-installed the app on their devices. The app is currently installed on more than 300 million devices.
It has so far raised $21.59 million in 4 rounds from 10 investors including Accel Partners, Index Ventures, and Octopus Investments.
According to the Financial Times, it is one of the biggest ever exits by a UK tech company among many acquisitions of UK-based companies which have taken place recently. In fact, a majority of these acquisitions are of the startups based on advanced artificial intelligence.
Last year, VocalIQ, whose AI software helps computers and people converse more naturally, was acquired by Apple. In 2014, Google acquired DeepMind for €400 million, which later acquired Dark Blue Labs and Vision Factory originated from the University of Oxford.
[UPDATE]: The above story has been officially confirmed by Microsoft in a blog post in which it said the acquisition supports their ambition to reinvent productivity by leveraging the intelligent cloud.