12 February, 2016

Microsoft''s SwiftKey Acquisition Could Make Mobile Apps More Productive

Microsoft Corp., snatched up a leader in software that can make a variety of mobile applications easier to use.
The acquisition of London-based SwiftKey for an undisclosed sum could give Microsoft competitive advantages not only in mobile apps, but in emerging areas such as virtual reality, where SwiftKey's technology could predict users' behavior before they take action.
Neither Microsoft nor SwiftKey executives would discuss the deal. But in blog posts, the companies noted that Microsoft would continue to develop SwiftKey for iOS and Android.
SwiftKey learns from users' typing history as well the broader Internet to predict what users intend to type. It is more than just whizzy technology, though. It helps trim the time users need to enter text messages, emails, and other communications, freeing them to be more productive. It makes Microsoft's apps easier to use as increasing numbers of users are typing into mobile devices for work and leisure.
"In this cloud-first, mobile-first world, SwiftKey's technology aligns with our vision for more personal computing experiences that anticipate our needs versus responding to our commands, and directly supports our ambition to reinvent productivity by leveraging the intelligent cloud," Harry Shum, Microsoft's executive vice president of technology and research, wrote in a blog post.
Mr. Shum noted that Microsoft intends to integrate SwiftKey into Word Flow, on-screen virtual keyboard technology that lets mobile users swipe from letter to letter rather than lifting their finger for each letter.
But SwiftKey's predictive technology could enhance other Microsoft products, as well.
"The big benefit will be beyond the touch-screen keyboard," said Per Ola Kristensson, leader of the University of Cambridge's Intelligent Interactive Systems group and an expert in predictive language technology. "There is a real benefit when the signal is noisy."
Take Microsoft's augmented reality headset, HoloLens, which projects digital imagery in front of a user. A virtual keyboard superimposed on a real-world object or floating in midair requires much more precise input than a typical mobile-screen keyboard, Mr. Kristensson said. SwiftKey's predictive analytics could offer drastic improvements. 
It could also enhance products such as Cortana, Microsoft's virtual assistant that competes with Alphabet Inc.'s Google Now and Apple Inc.'s Siri. Cortana can read a users' email, with permission, to help with specific tasks, such as tracking packages. It can also set reminders based on a users' location.
In addition, the service has predictive features, such as helping users draft emails and detecting whether language in an email indicates that a person is about to make a commitment. For example, if a user were to write, "I'll get back to you by next week," Cortana would offer to make a calendar invite.
The business model for SwiftKey within Microsoft is less clear. SwiftKey doesn't charge for the app, but it collects revenue from in-app purchases such as colors and themes for its keyboards. Nonetheless, its greater value may lie in making Microsoft's other apps and services easier, quicker, and ultimately more productive to use.