Case study

SwiftKey: saving mobile phone users 100,000 years of typing time

Digital start-up founded with help of Innovate UK grant has predictive keyboard installed on more than 300 million devices worldwide.

Hands using mobile phone

In the 9 years since it was released, predictive keyboard app SwiftKey has saved its users an estimated 100,000 years in typing time, and has been installed on more than 300 million smartphone devices.

With the help of a £15,000 Innovate UK grant, University of Cambridge graduates Jon Reynolds and Dr Ben Medlock founded SwiftKey in 2008. The firm’s flagship product, a predictive keyboard app, uses language technology to reduce typing time by anticipating what the user is going to say next, correcting spelling errors and even suggesting emojis based on what the user has just typed.

The grant, awarded to the firm in 2008, enabled Jon and Ben to give up their day jobs, and take on SwiftKey as a full-time project, before launching the app in 2010.

SwiftKey revolutionises predictive text

A swift success

In the first week following the app’s launch, the keyboard was downloaded by more than 100,000 people and the company continued to grow organically over the next 2 years. Co-founder Jon Reynolds said:

From the idea to being almost top of the App Store took us about 2 years. At that stage we had no real marketing, it was just people who loved the product telling their friends about it.

Where SwiftKey once comprised a 2-person team with an app that worked solely in English, the firm now employs more than 150 people and supports over 100 languages.

The firm’s developments in language technology led to high-profile collaborations. In 2014, SwiftKey was invited to work alongside Intel and Professor Stephen Hawking on a project to enhance Professor Hawking’s communication system. The project used the Professor’s published and unpublished works to build a personalised language model, which (it’s estimated) doubled Hawking’s speech rate.

Microsoft acquisition

In 2016, SwiftKey attracted the attention of tech giants Microsoft, who acquired the company in a deal worth a reported $250 million. Commenting on the acquisition, Jon said:

I think the reason that the acquisition has been a great success is that they [Microsoft] wanted to take what we were doing, and help accelerate that, making the keyboard better and getting more people using SwiftKey. We now have greater resources and greater assets across wider parts of Microsoft to be able to achieve that vision faster.

2017 has seen the addition of 7 new languages, as well as a new GIF search feature within the keyboard. SwiftKey now has offices around the globe; in London, Seoul and San Francisco.

Published 26 September 2017