UK-based artificial intelligence firm SwiftKey was bought by Microsoft for a reported $250 million (£174 million) yesterday.

The company, which was set up in 2008, is the latest UK artificial intelligence company to be acquired by a big US tech firm.

SwiftKey was launched by two Cambridge grads in 2008 © phandroid.com

DeepMind was bought by Google for £400 million in 2014 while speech technology startup VocalIQ was bought by Apple in October 2015, for a sum rumoured to be up to $100 million (£68 million).

What is SwiftKey?

In short, SwiftKey is a predictive keyboard for your smartphone. It can be used instead of the standard operating system keyboard, but it offers quite a different, more personalised experience: it ‘learns’ the typer’s writing style and automatically corrects typos.

It also has a ‘swipe to type’ feature which lets users drag their finger over the letters on the keyboard to form sentences, rather than by more conventional tapping.

Who is behind SwiftKey?

SwiftKey was set up by Cambridge grads Jon Reynolds (CEO) and Dr Ben Medlock (CTO) in 2008. Their first Android app was released in 2010 and SwiftKey launched in the Apple App Store in 2014.

The pair say that they found it slow and frustrating to type on touchscreens and resolved to find a way to improve the experience, making it easier for people to interact with their technology.

The app is now featured on over 300 million devices and is integrated into a number of smartphones including Samsung and OnePlus devices. SwiftKey is also famously the computer software on Prof Stephen Hawking's wheelchair.

Before being bought by Microsoft the company had raised $20 million in venture capital from Accel Partners, Octopus Investments and Index Ventures. It has offices in London, San Francisco and Seoul.

The SwiftKey app started as a paid for app, which means no adverts, but with the increase in popularity and competition of free-to-install apps in 2014, SwiftKey decided to follow suit. Later that same year, Apple allowed customisable keyboard applications on their app store so SwiftKey created an iOS app.

Its main rivals are keyboard apps Swype, Adaptxt and Fleksy.

What does the future hold?

Microsoft is soon set to launch their own keyboard app for iOS – it now seems likely this will use some of SwiftKey’s technology.

The 41-year-old US tech giant claims the acquisition was to show that they are committed to branching out and bring their services to all platforms.

Evidently it is part of the company’s new mobile strategy where, rather than focusing on hardware, it aims to dominate the device-agnostic productivity software market.

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