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Why Microsoft just acquired one of the most popular keyboard makers on Android

Artificial IntelligenceBig Data & AnalyticsMobilitySoftware

To long-time fans of alternative input methods on the Android smartphone platform, SwiftKey may be a familiar name.

The app, essentially a keyboard that lets you “swipe” across letters to string together words is among the most popular input applications on the platform, partly for its ability to accurately predict the next word.

It would seem a certain software giant has taken notice.

Microsoft this week announced that it has acquired SwiftKey, but observers say the move may be less about having an elegant keyboard and more about analytics.

You see, underneath SwiftKey’s simple interface is a machine learning engine that powers the predictive capabilities of the keyboard.

It’s one that Android, and later iOS users over time have grown to determine is among the most accurate. Some sources, such as Fortune magazine go as far as to call it “artificial intelligence.”

“We are as committed as ever to improving [our apps] in new and innovative ways,” said Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock, co-founders of the eight-year-old company based out of London, England.

Under the deal, estimated to be worth $250 million, SwiftKey will be absorbed into Microsoft Research.

As big as this news may be for the Android community, it’s not unexpected. Both Google and Apple have in recent years made AI acquisitions to try and improve their platforms.

“We’ll continue to develop SwiftKey’s market-leading keyboard apps for Android and iOS as well as explore scenarios for the integration of the core technology across the breadth of our product and services portfolio,” Harry Shum, executive vice president of technology and research said in an official Microsoft blog post. “SwiftKey’s predictive technology aligns with Microsoft’s investments and ambition to develop intelligent systems that can work more on the user’s behalf and under their control.