‘Innovation’ can too easily become a diluted buzzword.
When Fast Company recently named SwiftKey as one of the World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Mobile Companies, this added to a collection of awards we’ve received on this theme; ‘Most Innovative App’ at the GMAs (2012), a Guardian Digital Innovation Award for ‘Best Startup’ (2012), and a People’s Voice Webby Award for ‘Mobile Experimentation and Innovation’ (2012). We were also shortlisted for a Lovie Award in the category ‘Experimental & Innovation’. These sit among other awards we’ve won that, though they don’t explicitly reference innovation in the title, embody this quality.
In an internal study (read ‘sticky-note survey’), we found that ‘innovation’ was the word SwiftKey staff most associated with the company, by a significant margin. So, we wanted to bring this ‘innovation’ into sharper focus, and take a look at what this means in practice for us.
SwiftKey’s technology represents more than just an advancement on what already exists; it’s a fundamental leap forward. Since we started out in 2008, we’ve been intentional about maintaining a forward-looking approach. This has allowed us to create technology that pushes boundaries. As our CMO, Joe Braidwood, emphasized in a recent article for Forbes, SwiftKey is part of the evolution towards devices functioning as ‘butlers’ rather than ‘concierges’, intelligently anticipating our needs ahead of time. Harnessing years of research into Natural Language Processing and Machine learning, we’ve invented the first ‘intelligent’ keyboard.
SwiftKey has achieved many ‘firsts’, including: the first touchscreen keyboard with next-word prediction, with context-based learning, with personalization and adaptive learning over time, with truly multi-lingual capabilities, or to have a simple three-prediction user interface. However, the beauty of our technology is its relevance to real people’s everyday lives. Our stats show that we’ve saved our users a total of over 300 billion keystrokes. Also, our users have typed over one trillion characters with the SwiftKey app; printed out in a 10 point font these would wrap around the earth 300 times! There’s no avoiding the fact that the tech powering SwiftKey is highly advanced (the writing on the whiteboard walls of our HQ is enough to make any head spin), but the result is human-shaped and easy to use, and that’s a key reason our tech is here to stay. This was further confirmed by our recent selection as Official Honorees of the Webby Awards in the category of ‘Best User Experience’.
‘Innovation’ is not just a descriptor of our technology, but a deliberate approach that permeates our culture. We continue to think carefully about creating an environment that best enables our staff to be most happy and therefore productive. Life at SwiftKey is structured in a way that values each individual in the team; this includes our self-directed environment with flexible working hours and the freedom to work from home on Mondays, Thursday and Fridays. There’s also a wide range of staff benefits including (among other things) free food and ping-pong, regular internal and external talks, Special Effort Awards and £100 Productivity Vouchers for all staff. Our culture is one that values creative risk, complemented by the freedom and opportunity staff have to share their ideas in a meaningful way. Further, supporting our non-hierarchical structure of small teams, we ensure that the staff we recruit in the first place are passionate about their role in contributing to what we’re building here.
Whilst we’ve found innovation has to be an intentional focus, we balance that with the caveat that (by definition) it cannot be predictably ‘planned’. Subsequently, a sense of discovery, intrigue and fun is encouraged, not stifled, at SwiftKey. Every month we hold an Innovation Day where staff are free to pursue their own personal projects or hobbies, alone or in groups. This space for open-ended creativity has ended up producing some of our key innovations, which we most likely wouldn’t have dreamt up in a meeting room. A great example of this was our recent Aprils Fools joke, ‘SwiftKey Tilt’. What we loved about SwiftKey Tilt, was that although it was a joke, we were still able to deliver a clever and tangible feature for you to play with. This was the result of one of our dev’s playful work on an Innovation Day. You can see our follow-up blog with some of our Tilt users’ reactions here.
So what’s ahead for us? Well, rest assured that while we have one eye on all that we’re currently achieving, we’ve got the other firmly placed on the horizon of what’s possible for us. We’re enjoying massive success with our award-winning consumer app (SwiftKey), our first enterprise product (SwiftKey Healthcare), and our deals with top handset manufacturers (it was recently announced that our tech is powering the Samsung S4’s keyboard)… but that’s all just setting the scene for what’s ahead. If you’ve followed our progress at all, hopefully you got the message that we’re an ambitious bunch who are far from done. We’re around 100 staff now, all working hard on various areas of the company. SwiftKey’s technology understands language – this is a meeting point for the interaction between humans and the technology that is increasingly shaping our daily landscape. The growing number of language-based challenges our digital world presents are opportunities for our intelligent technology to bridge the communication gap.
We’ve shown that when we see an opportunity to use our technology to improve the world around us, we jump at it.
The SwiftKey Team