Home Business NewsBusiness How SwiftKey took on Google and won over Stephen Fry

How SwiftKey took on Google and won over Stephen Fry

by LLB Editor
16th May 12 8:00 pm

It just won a Webby – otherwise known as the Oscars of the internet – and boasts six million downloads to date. Stephen Fry hails it a “great British success story”. But what is SwiftKey and who’s behind it?

Joe Braidwood, CMO, SwiftKey

We all know of London’s burgeoning tech prowess, but beating Google’s signature Google Wallet app to win the Webby People’s Voice Award for Experiment & Innovation is just, well, something else.

SwiftKey, an android app, learns from your style of writing when you text, tweet or email and then predicts words as you type. It was launched by Southwark-based “technopreneurs” Jon Reynolds, 26, and Dr Ben Medlock, 33, who wanted to do something about making text entry on touchphones more accurate and less cumbersome.

Priced at £1.86, the app was downloaded 50,000 times on the first day of its launch in 2010 and has had over six million downloads since then. But just how has the app managed to save 50 billion keystrokes to date, and what is it about SwiftKey that has got Stephen Fry pouring such praises?

I caught up with SwiftKey’s chief marketing officer Joe Braidwood to find out.

Congrats on winning the Webby! How do you feel beating Google?

To stand up to Google and beat it in a public vote is a big achievement for us. It’s a real David and Goliath story and just goes to show that even a small company can compete with industry giants.

How did you get Stephen Fry to support the app?

Stephen Fry tweets about SwiftKey to his 4.1 million followers

Stephen Fry tweets about SwiftKey to his 4.1 million followers

Stephen was actually a fan of the app before we won the award, which we found out via a ‘blessay’ he wrote for his blog. We immediately got in touch with him to say thank you for the generous words. More recently he’s become a real friend of ours and was kind enough to support us with some tweets to help swing other fans of the app into action.

We’ve been blown away by everyone’s kind words. We’ve also had an amazing response from our 60,000 strong VIP community, [the online forum set up by SwiftKey that feedsback on the app and discusses innovations in the technonlogy sector]. We owe a lot to them and thank them for their ever-present enthusiasm and encouragement.

So how does SwiftKey work?

SwiftKey is a keyboard for Android devices that learns from your style of writing when you text, tweet or email to then accurately correct, and predict words as you type.

Can you tell me a bit about how the app has saved 50 billion keystrokes?

SwiftKey learns the words you use, and the way you use them, to predict what you’re most likely to be typing next. We save our users time and keystrokes every time they tap on one of the three suggested words at the top of the keyboard (which is very often). We’ve added all those keystrokes together to total over 50 billion.

Is selling the app your sole revenue stream?

It’s certainly a significant one but we have other ways we’re growing the business. We work with some of the world’s biggest handset and tablet manufacturers to make SwiftKey available to their users straight out the box. We also recently launched a software development kit (SDK) to make an engine that powers the app available to anyone in any scenario where quick and accurate text entry is important. We’re working on some really exciting projects that will see SwiftKey available to everywhere from hospitals to front rooms and TV sets.

Why did you choose Google’s Android phone to provide the app? Why not the iPhone?

Through our SDK, SwiftKey can work on any mobile device, but at present Android is the only mobile operating system that lets its users pick the keyboard they think works best for them. We would be thrilled to work with any iOS developer, as well as Apple itself, to develop SwiftKey solutions for the iPhone or iPad.

How many employees do you have?

It’s hard to keep count because we’re growing so quickly, we added six new faces to the team just last week for example. At last count there were 35 in the team.

What was it like starting out as a tech company in London?

We’re very proud to be a British company and it’s an exciting time to be a tech start-up. London is a fantastic place to start a technology company, as there’s a great support network and community in the city that really helps foster innovation. We’ve received support from government bodies like UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), as well as members of the UK press, who recognise the value we’re bringing to the mobile industry.

Swiftkey prediction

How SwiftKey works

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being based in London? Have you considered moving to the US?

The talent we’ve been able to attract from some of the UK’s top universities is second to none. We have such a talented team at the company. The main disadvantage is the sheer amount of air miles and accompanying jetlag that the whole team accrues (right now I’m speaking to you from a hotel in New Orleans), so setting up a presence in the US is something we weigh up regularly. SwiftKey’s HQ will always be in the UK though.

What do you think of London’s tech scene?

The buzz surrounding Silicon Roundabout has done an amazing job of highlighting tech companies that are currently innovating and bringing new and exciting things to the consumer and enterprise space. It also provides a great platform to the tech start-up industry as a whole. We are members of TechHub and support anything in the city that helps to encourage tech innovation.

What message would you give small tech companies? How can they be as successful as you?

Use the help and guidance offered to young companies from bodies like UKTI, get yourself out there at events to meet the rest of the industry, and don’t be shy about your successes: project yourself as a success story and progress will come faster.

If you had to list the three best apps in the world, which would you choose and why?

SwiftKey would top my list, but that’s obvious. Beyond that:

TripIt Pro – When you’re constantly on the road, it’s a god send. Beautifully simple itineraries, powerful early warnings when things go awry.

Google Voice – Disrupts the mobile industry by turning carriers into a commodity. All you need is a cheap SIM and this app, and your phone number, SMS history and voicemail follow you on all of your devices.

WhatsApp – Another fantastic app for staying in touch with loved ones. Works flawlessly when you’re abroad, too.

What are the future plans of the company?

At the moment we’re concentrating on continuing to grow a successful company, providing an innovative place where talented people want to come and work, as well as exploring the scenarios in which SwiftKey can be used. We don’t comment on specific financials, but things are going very well.

Great, thanks for yout time, best of luck to you and SwiftKey

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