back to article Microsoft buys SwiftKey, Britain's 'stealthiest software startup'

Microsoft has bought the British software company SwiftKey, the company we once described as "the UK's stealthiest startup". It's best known for its predictive software keyboard, and the deal is worth $250m, the Financial Times reports. SwiftKey was founded in August 2008 by two Cambridge graduates and was perfectly placed to …

  1. hplasm
    Windows

    By contrast, SwiftKey is world class.

    For now. So was Skype...

  2. Colin Critch

    Yet another paid for app I will now have to uninstall

    Yet another paid for app I will now have to uninstall

    1. druck Silver badge

      Re: Yet another paid for app I will now have to uninstall

      Thank god I went with Swype.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yet another paid for app I will now have to uninstall

      Why? They already have your money

  3. Cynical Observer
    Facepalm

    Counting the days

    .. until they boll*x this one up and I have to uninstall it. Bought and paid for because it addressed an irritating issue that the stock keyboard had in my browser of choice (The stock keyboard would not auto-space in a web page's dialog box.)

    Time to look at detaching it from the market and disabling future updates.

    1. Tom Chiverton 1 Silver badge

      Re: Counting the days

      Turn off auto updates and keep it.

      1. BasicChimpTheory

        Re: Counting the days

        Was going to upvote as thanks for the idea but I looked at the settings and can find no in-app setting for updates. Any hints?

        1. hplasm
          Happy

          Re: Counting the days

          "Any hints?"

          Go to app, long press- go to play store- press menu- untick auto update.

          1. BasicChimpTheory

            Re: Counting the days

            Ah. Thank you, hplasm.

            I'm not on a version of Android that requires Play so it looks like this doesn't affect me.

            Thanks again.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Counting the days

        "Turn off auto updates and keep it."

        And save a copy of the APK file just in case.

        I like ES File Explorer but it started getting bloaty, bloaty, BLOATY!!!!

        Luckily I found a site with older versions and downloaded one from before it got BLOATY

        Now I take more care. I don't like BLOAT!!!! it makes me ANGRY!!!!

  4. djstardust

    Another great app

    Bites the dust. MS will totally screw this up like everything else they touch.

    Another one to block from Google Play updates then.

    And all the Swiftkey Cloud data will be slurped by MS. That's what they have paid for .......

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Another great app

      And all the Swiftkey Cloud data will be is already being slurped by MS google

      Fixed that for you. Really, complaining about privacy on an android phone?? i heard that the fish are also complaining about the wet weather...

  5. Arctic fox
    Windows

    Hmm, the usual comments.

    Did you boys miss the bit about these employees joining MS Research? How did you miss the importance of Swiftkey's people's first class AI skills? Whatever you may think about MS as a commercial outfit their research division is world class in the fields they cover.

    1. simpfeld

      Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

      So world class that it seems to have produced virtually nothing that they have made any money from!

      All I can think of off hand, is the Kinect, and Xbox in general hasn't really made any money.

      We buy the best people to stifle their creativity, as we can't risk cannibalising our legacy software.

      All I can say is Poor Sods! Remember what happened to Nokia.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

        "Xbox in general hasn't really made any money."

        Xbox has made several billion profit over the massive investment costs, and they have nearly 50 million Xbox Live Gold subscribers. Surface tablets are turning over a billion a quarter and growing rapidly. Holovision looks like the dogs bollocks too...

        1. hplasm
          Gimp

          Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

          "Holovision looks like the dogs bollocks too..."

          Hairy and dangly and make you look odd if fastened to your face?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @AC Xbox making 'profit'

          Xbox is only profitable if they don't count the original one they lost $6 billion on. They're still in the red on Xbox overall, and with the most recent one losing to PS4 in the marketplace - and consoles in general not as big of a deal in this generation thanks to mobile gaming - Microsoft is unlikely to ever reach breakeven on the overall Xbox product line.

          Microsoft intended Xbox to be their wedge into the living room that they could leverage into bigger things, but it has remained almost exclusively a gaming platform. I suppose there may be a small number who use that silly HDMI passthru feature to try to integrate it with their TV viewing, but while there was a lot of initial speculation they'd turn that into something bigger it has gone nowhere.

          If they hadn't been wasting their time trying to beat Sony in the living room, they might have stood a better chance of noticing Apple and Google beating them in mobile before it was too late.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

        >So world class that it seems to have produced virtually nothing that they have made any money from!

        Its job isn't to produce anything - it's to stop the people who might produce something working somewhere else.

        Think how good MS's balance sheet would be if they had hired Linus Torvalds to work on some obscure internal OS project that never saw daylight.

      3. BasicChimpTheory

        Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

        @simpfeld

        "All I can think of off hand, is the Kinect,"

        They bought the Israeli company that developed Kinect, kit and kaboodle. MS practically did nothing but limit that device's utility to a single platform.

        Just sayin'.

        1. Random Handle

          Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

          >They bought the Israeli company that developed Kinect, kit and kaboodle. MS practically did nothing but limit that device's utility to a single platform.

          They licensed the sensor but the SDK was all them and roundly caned PrimeSense's (since bought kit and kaboodle by Apple BTW). MS have won pretty much every prize in computer vision research over the past few years - but they do a little bit of other stuff too:

          http://research.microsoft.com/apps/catalog/default.aspx?t=publications

          1. Arctic fox
            Windows

            Random Handle Re:"http://research.microsoft.com/apps/catalog/default.aspx?t=publications"

            Very good points Random Handle, just don't hold your breath as far as there being any chance that they will take any notice whatsoever. :)

          2. Richard Plinston

            Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

            > They licensed the sensor but the SDK was all them

            The software was written by Rare in the UK. Microsoft bought them, too.

            1. Random Handle

              Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

              >The software was written by Rare in the UK. Microsoft bought them, too.

              No idea where you got that from, this paper was widely publicised and details the MS Research Labs work the tracking system was built on.

              http://research.microsoft.com/pubs/145347/BodyPartRecognition.pdf

              MS' problems are legion, but they aren't down to lack of original research and mind-boggling engineering talent.

        2. TheVogon

          Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

          "They bought the Israeli company that developed Kinect, kit and kaboodle."

          Nope. PrimeSense was bought by Apple Inc. for $360 million on November 24, 2013.

          1. BasicChimpTheory

            Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

            Yes. I was was incorrect and imprecise in my previous comment here (same goes to the other commentard who pointed out the same). MS bought rights to the device, not the entire company. My rhetoric remains the same (MS acquired someone else's junk and their RnD did NOTHING), but I did say a thing that was literally wrong.

      4. Arctic fox
        Windows

        @ simpfeld "to have produced virtually nothing that they have"

        MS Research does a lot of long term basic research (basic as in not having an immediate commercial application). Their work takes years to pay off. One example of that work that is beginning to pay off is in the field of real time translation (as has been reported several times here at El Reg). I repeat, whatever you may think about MS' commercial operation; how many major companies would put as much money as they do into research that may not pay off at all, or may only pay off a decade or two down the line? The problem with any MS-thread currently is that, regardless of what the topic might be, it immediately becomes infested by large numbers of anti-Redmond hatebois whose only objective is to excrete large amounts of steaming ordure on the thread. There is plenty that MS deserve very strong criticism for but the utter incapacity of some to distinguish between issues is a royal pain in the backside for those of us who are actually interested in a worthwhile on topic discussion.

    2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

      MS research seems to be a black hole these days. Things go in and nowt comes out (Apart from the horrid Metro disaster, just my opinion though).

      These guys have probably made enough to retire so they may spend some time twiddling their thumbs before leaving MS, starting up anothe biz. Rinse and repeat anyone?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: MS Research : their main role is to

        The main role for MS Research in recent decades appears to have been to take people who could have been a massive asset to an MS competitor, and stop them being an asset to an MS competitor, for as long as they can.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

      "How did you miss the importance of Swiftkey's people's first class AI skills?"

      I don't know how I missed it, but are there any decent backgrounders out there?

      To this untrained obsever, there's not that much cleverness in offering a list of dictionary (and other) words, ordered by probability of use, with the list being further subsetted each time there's more keyboard input. But I must be missing something, perhaps because I hated T9 with a vengeance. What am I missing?

      1. BasicChimpTheory

        Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

        @AC

        "What am I missing?"

        Probably any experience with the app, I'd say. Largely a pretty great product. Has some rough edges but the complexity of what they're trying to do is significant. Try out the free version before MS b0rk it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

          ""What am I missing?"

          Probably any experience with the app, I'd say."

          No doubt. My current style (as I say, perhaps due to my historic incompatibility with T9 on phones, and my preference for e.g. Nokia E71 - oh for a modern equivalent) is that short stuff is done in full with Android standard kbd, longer stuff is either done somewhere with a decent real keyboard, or if sufficiently urgent is done using (Android/Moto G) voice recognition and a few clean-up edits if necessary.

          "Try out the free version before MS b0rk it."

          I see where you're coming from, and largely agree. But I'm not sure I want to get addicted to something that MS are about to break, when I already have nearly-adequate alternatives. I've got history there, going back as far as when MS bought Nextbase (the Autoroute folks), and then Microsofted Autoroute to the extent that the reviews of Autoroute 97 were so bad that e.g. they had to be physically omitted from one hardcopy magazine (AFTER the front covers were printed, with Autoroute on there). Here's another sample review, one that did make it past the editors and lawyers (from Jon Honeyball):

          http://windowsitpro.com/windows/nt-europe-01-mar-1997

          1. BasicChimpTheory

            Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

            "But I'm not sure I want to get addicted to something that MS are about to break, when I already have nearly-adequate alternatives."

            Upvoted.

            Agree with both sides of this. To be honest, SwiftKey is maybe the best of a bad bunch. It is flawed in some respects but is still WAAAAAAAAAAAAY better than T9 (which I liked when it was a thing that was remotely relevant).

            @everyone else - Should point put that I moved to SwiftKey after moving to a non-Google version of Android and missed their pretty good keyboard. If you're reading this and on Google Android then this doesn't concern you. Move along.

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

        You're missing the fact that it does do really decent prediction, putting 3 possibilities just above the keyboard. It's a lot easier to tap a couple letters then a correctly spelled 15 character word than laboriously tap it completely out on the keyboard.

        There's a lot of copycat apps now, but they were the first with decent prediction, not just "trawl something semi-random from the dictionary"

        It learns the words you use often, *and* in what order, and also learns new words.

        1. Chris Parsons

          Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

          AND it does it in multiple languages. I use English, French and German and it's brilliant.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hmm, the usual comments.

        Used to work at SwiftKey.

        There are about 10 to 20 people involved in anything of merit. The rest are a waste of space.

        Also, internally they talked about wanting $4b for the company. Haha.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good for them

    Well done SwiftKey.

    Amazing the value of 'utilities' with VC capital behind it.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Intersting

    As MS' predictive keyboard on Winphone is pretty dammed good. There most be more to this than meets the eye.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Intersting

      "As MS' predictive keyboard on Winphone is pretty dammed good"

      Corner the market and own all the relevant patents? The Swype keyboard on Windows Phone is already the best product like it on the market.

      1. BasicChimpTheory

        Re: Intersting

        Pretty sure that they basically had the Windows Phone keyboard market cornered already...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Intersting

          Microsoft are porting the Swype keyboard to IOS and Maldroid too...

          1. Ammendiable to persuasion..

            Re: Intersting

            "Microsoft are porting the Swype keyboard to IOS and Maldroid too..."

            There is already Swype on iOS.. and they don't require you register on a web site to use their _purchased_ keyboard.

            Swiftkey on iOS is "free" but requires a web registration to use.. so they can personalize your predictions or something.

            Their privacy policy claims that they *definitely* don't read what you type on your device. Hmmmm...

            I really wish that iOS and Android both would offer a security sandbox where an application needs to ask for TCP/IP as a permission, instead of getting it by default whether it needs it or not.

            Am so not interested in this development.

    2. DrXym

      Re: Intersting

      "As MS' predictive keyboard on Winphone is pretty dammed good. There most be more to this than meets the eye."

      The "more" to this is that winphone is basically a dead platform. Microsoft are diversifying into platforms which are still in popular use.

      If they start acquiring other android apps like Nova Launcher then it might also hint that they intend to produce an Android powered Lumia at some point.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think they cashed out at the right time

    After all, there's a limit to how much you can refine a touchscreen keyboard. Their revenues were likely to drop off a cliff. Let M$ carry the can as we enter what will be the most severe economic recession in 100 years.

    1. Ian 55

      Re: I think they cashed out at the right time

      Yes, I would have taken the money and run. Licensing deals - otherwise known as 'hoping the stock Google keyboard doesn't get a bit better - and selling skins to people prepared to pay to have their keyboard look a bit different do not a sustainable business make.

      1. Nick Kew

        Re: I think they cashed out at the right time

        Makes for a nice dividend, due to appear in our accounts in late April. The principal VC backers are among those raising more funds right now, if you want your share of the action in the next story.

        It probably is the right time for the founders to cash in: there's only so long a techie wants to work on a particular project before moving on. But (Ian 55) not sustainable? Isn't that comment premised on the supposition that they stand still and lack the imagination that built a successful product in the first place? In which case, it applies throughout the tech industry: you can't stand still.

  9. x 7

    I HATE predictive keyboards

    1. Holleritho

      Not just me, then

      Kill it with fire.

    2. People's Poet

      If you had used one it would probably not have capitalized your first two words.HTH.

    3. Gene Cash Silver badge

      I hate tapping out 24 characters of a 24-letter word, when I can be done in 3 or 4, especially on a phone.

      I'm a lazy bastard, that's why I get the computer to do most of my work for me.

    4. fruitoftheloon

      @ x7

      X7,

      I thought it was just me (typed on a BlackBerry Passport btw).

      Cheers,

      Jay.

    5. censored

      I have predicting kerboodle top! Let my tip mussel instead of relaying on softer!

  10. Amorous Cowherder
    Thumb Up

    Nice heart warming story of 2 bright people, thinking clearly, planning properly and making a success with a genuinely good product and a lot of hard work...and they're Brits to boot!

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Heartwarming until now, but anything that shows promised gets swallowed up by either Apple, Microsoft or Google and I don't think that can be good.

      That's why the ground in the shade of the forest is not green, not much grows below the canopy.

  11. localzuk

    Lots of staff

    150 staff for a company with basically one product? That seems like a bit of overstaffing!

    1. TheVogon

      Re: Lots of staff

      "150 staff for a company with basically one product?"

      Glad this discussion wasn't about say Facebook, WhatsApp or Uber then!

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Lots of staff

      150 staff for a company with basically one product?

      Might be because they support over 100 languages.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Excellent

    Good work Swiftkey, I for one am proud of you.

  13. Joe Harrison

    Don't like predictive keyboards

    They keep making me say things I didn't Nintendo

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Don't like predictive keyboards

      Quite.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vb_W7aMUu5I

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thank for the tip-off

    Time to uninstall Swiftkey from my Android phone.

    To see how Microsoft ruins its acquisitions, look no further than Skype.

  15. Arthur the cat Silver badge
    Headmaster

    The technology also powers Stephen Hawking's wheelchair.

    Nitpick: I think you'll find it's batteries that power his wheelchair. SwiftKey handles the input to the text to speech system he uses.

  16. David Paul Morgan
    Happy

    call me old-fashioned

    but Swype and (Palm) Graffiti are my favourites.

    I can get quite a speed up with a stylus and graffiti

  17. Scott Broukell
    Meh

    Probabilistic language

    Harrumph, so is that what comes out of the mouths of da yoof of today, because to my ears it could just about sound like a language, but I still don't understand any of it. /grumpy rant

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Probabilistic language

      "what comes out of the mouths of da yoof of today, because to my ears it could just about sound like a language"

      See also: a well known local contributor. Outpourings have apparently plausible grammar but rarely have detectable meaning (partial opposite of contributions from da yoof).

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Trollface

    Good dog!

    You don't need a PhD in AI to predict that mentioning Microsoft will generate a tsunami of rantings an El Reg!

  19. Synonymous Howard

    I hate predictive keyboards!

    As I prefer the extra typing, because, apart from toilet breaks, it is the only exercise I get 8-)

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Trollface

    On the plus side...

    Those of you who are Swift key customers now qualify for a Windows X download onto your phone!

  21. droidgirl

    Another great app gets sucked up by the MotherShip, ruined and spat out again. I'm expecting the UI to get progressively more shiny as the functionality gets worse, whilst the MotherShip demands more personal information and insists we sign in to every damn account we have for it too work at all.

    1. BasicChimpTheory

      You're largely correct but it should be stated that SwitfKey hasn't been ruined YET.

      Maybe they just want the staff to apply decent prediction in another space?

      Maybe???

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