SwiftKey is one of the real success stories coming out of Google Play. Formed by two friends in 2008, the app development company has grown in size and industry standing in the intervening four years.
The company’s keyboard apps – powered by natural language processing — swarmed to the top of the app charts, staff jumped up to 95 people and the company won the kind of awards and extensive media covered that most can only dream of.
Such attention saw the Swiftkey attract the attention of bigger fish in the consumer electronics world. Google asked the company to develop a tablet app at its offices in Mountain View, California back in 2011, while Samsung recently signed up SwiftKey 4 for its latest Galaxy S4 smartphone.
Smartphone first; tablet later
To find out the key to the company’s success you have to trace back to the summer of 2008, when co-founders Jon Reynolds and Dr. Ben Medlock were lamenting the frustrations of typing on Android smartphones.
“It was a well-timed direction,” said chief marketing officer Joe Braidwood, who joined the company shortly afterwards. “Devices with touchscreens were growing in popularity but they were dreadful to type on. So we basically decided to research the problem.”
That research, coupled with job offers for personnel with nature language processing expertise, resulted in the launch of the original SwiftKey app, a touchscreen keyboard application which would go on to become the top paid app on Google Play by September 2010.
Such success led SwiftKey to look next at tablets. The firm spent three weeks at Google’s offices building a tablet version of the app for Honeycomb, the first Android OS to be built for tablets, and an app which later was featured on Motorola’s original Xoom tablet.
The big bet: Improving tablets in healthcare
The company would go on to to something of a consolidation, making a number of product improvements, including new language support, better word prediction and split keyboards, a feature later adopted independently by Apple on the iPad and Windows 8 tablets.
The latest SwiftKey app – SwiftKey 4 — has since come to market, introducing gesture swipe control among other features. But the firm’s success in the consumer space, plus its inability to provide apps for iOS or Windows 8 devices, has led the group to evaluate other possibilities, most notably improving tablets.
“For 2013 we’re really going to focus on the tablet UI,” said Braidwood. “There is no stopping 7 and 8-inch tablets — they are here to stay — so in the next big release we’re going to focus on other really cool things we can do for tablets.”
But SwiftKey isn’t just focusing on tablets for consumer, but on models slowly edging into the healthcare market.
The company last summer introduced SwiftKey Healthcare, a product which understands words and phrases commonly used by medical professionals, meaning these folks can accurately and quickly document patient records on their Android tablets.
SwiftKey has integrated the SDK for the solution into existing electronic medical record (EMR) systems, and it can be used on Android and now iOS devices.
“We’ve launched to home healthcare organizations with Android, but iPad is a lot more ubiquitous in the healthcare sphere," said B2B marketing manager Sarah Rowley. “At the moment we’re focusing on the U.S. market where EMRs are exploding. Healthcare providers have to use EMRs and the U.S. is an excellent melting plot for that."
SwiftKey certainly didn’t jump headfirst into tackling the market. Instead, the London company once again did its research and began by targeting the top 10 EMRs in the U.S.
“It’s just been amazing, the amount of enthusiasm from nurses, physicians and GPs [for SwiftKey Healthcare],” said Rowley, reflecting on early interest for the service.
Such interest has even prompted SwiftKey to re-evaluate its strategy. “We have been targeting the big 10-11 EMRs across the U.S. but we’re, thinking of slightly adapting that,” admitted Rowley.
“We need to target more healthcare providers and hospital trusts – they’re the customers and the EMR gives the customer what they want."
Braidwood explains that the concept of SwiftKey Healthcare started on the back of consumer demand. In fact, it was just one user, a healthcare professional, who advised the firm that SwiftKey would be an excellent addition to their organization's collection of Samsung Galaxy Tabs.
“That’s where the whole endeavour began,” says Braidwood. “It was then that we started thinking about doing the first trial, for Bayada in New Jersey.”
That trial saw Bayada Home Health Care, which provides home-based services including adult nursing, hospice and care for the mentally and physically disabled, use SwiftKey Healthcare on its 4,000 Galaxy Tabs deployed to nurses.
Rowley says that many of these workers were “pushing back” on using the Galaxy Tabs, even asking for Bluetooth keyboards, before SwiftKey Healthcare was introduced. But since the introduction, a study of 1,400 physicians found that SwiftKey Healthcare was saving them up to 30 minutes each day.
Braidwood and Rowley remain noncommittal on where SwiftKey Healthcare, currently used by around 2,000 physicians across North America, could lead to in future, even swerving TabTimes' suggestion that a similar service could be useful in education.
Braidwood instead quips, tongue-in-cheek, that “word domination” is on the company's horizon. That may be a joke, but this much is clear — this enterprising startup is showing no signs of slowing down.
(Bayada Health will share details of its deployment of 4,000 Android tablets and Swiftkey at the upcoming Tablet Strategy conference in New York April 30).