Not many technology products become a verb, as in “I Googled it” or “We Ubered.”
But mobile keyboard startup Swype, created in Seattle in the early 2000s by technology pioneer Cliff Kushler, achieved that status. At its peak, the company was the default keyboard on millions of Android devices across the globe, creating an easier method for addicted mobile phone users to concoct sentences on the go.
“Nuance will no longer be updating the Swype+Dragon keyboard for Android. We’re sorry to leave the direct-to-consumer keyboard business, but this change is necessary to allow us to concentrate on developing our AI solutions for sale directly to businesses,” says a message on Reddit first reported by XDA Developers. “We hope you enjoyed using Swype, we sure enjoyed working with the Swype community.” An article on Zendesk appears to confirm the news.
The decision comes as users and the tech industry increasingly embrace voice as a mechanism for quickly inputting text and interacting with devices and virtual agents.
Swype continues to be available for download on Android but no longer appears in Apple’s iOS App Store, which is especially notable because Swype’s expansion to iPhone in 2014 was such a long-awaited milestone.
We’ve reached out to Nuance for additional information, and have yet to hear back. Nuance’s product page for Swype provides no clues that the product is being discontinued, with a message that notes: “Say hello to the fastest keyboard on the planet.”
Former Swype CEO Mike McSherry — who was instrumental in growing the mobile keyboard’s usage and later sold the company to Nuance — told GeekWire that it was sad to see the product “mothballed.”
“We’re proud to have invented a product that’s been put on over one billion phones and helped shepherd in the world of touchscreen typing,” said McSherry, who now serves as CEO of Seattle health startup Xealth. “Swyping has now been mainstreamed by Android so is now a default typing mode on multi-billion phones globally.”
McSherry said he’d love to see a Swype-style keyboard implemented as part of Apple’s iOS native keyboard technology, noting that it “would be the next step to cap off Cliff (Kushler’s) amazing inventiveness around keyboards.”
Kushler came up with the idea for Swype in 2002 after having co-founded Seattle-based Tegic Communications, which was a leader in predictive text input on mobile devices. Tegic later sold to AOL, and then to Nuance. Interestingly, the co-founder of Swype — Randy Marsden — now serves as iOS keyboard manager for Apple, overseeing the text input technologies for iPhones and iPads. (Or, as he puts it in his LinkedIn profile: “Yes – if your auto-correct got it wrong, it is now ultimately my fault!”
After reading the reports of Swype’s demise, McSherry said that he’d consider buying the brand. He’s not spoken to Nuance about that yet, but noted that he’d love to have it if it wasn’t going to be used. “Good brand!” he said.
Microsoft entered the mobile keyboard text market in 2016 when it purchased Swype rival SwiftKey, gobbling up its estimated 300 million Android and iOS device users. “In this cloud-first, mobile-first world, SwiftKey’s technology aligns with our vision for more personal computing experiences that anticipate our needs versus responding to our commands, and directly supports our ambition to reinvent productivity by leveraging the intelligent cloud,” wrote Harry Shum, executive vice president of technology and research at Microsoft.
For those who never gave it a try, here’s a closer look at how Swype worked: