Ten million smartphones (not Apple's) may soon feature software that lets consumers type by tracing letters with their fingers on a screen
Touchscreen software maker Swype says its technology will be speeding the way consumers type on about 10 million smartphones by the end of this year. Each of the U.S.'s four mobile-phone service providers will offer phones using Swype by this summer, says Chief Executive Officer Mike McSherry in an interview. The company's software will also make its debut on handsets in Asia, Europe, and South America, he says. "We want to be the default keyboard for every screen," he says. "We've got a number of major deployments coming up." Swype's software is currently used on six smartphone models and will be added to about 14 additional models later this year. While 10 million devices is a tiny fraction of the more than one billion mobile phones sold each year, Seattle-based Swype has a track record and is backed by Nokia (NOK) and Samsung Electronics. Swype's technology was invented by Cliff Kushler, who created the T9 predictive text-entry system that has been used on 4 billion phones. Like T9, the Swype software is the result of research into technology designed to help people with disabilities. Swype speeds up the process of typing on a touchscreen device by letting users swipe their fingers across virtual letters. Software recognizes words that users want, adding spaces and punctuation. The system can be learned in minutes and doubles the speed of text entry, according to McSherry. Swype works as an add-on to a touchscreen keyboard and doesn't interfere with users who wish to continue typing in the traditional manner. in Samsung, Motorola, and HTC models
The 27-person company is also in talks with makers of tablet computers and electronic book readers to adapt its technology for bigger devices, says McSherry says, whose career includes a stint at Microsoft (MSFT). Using Swype adds "tens of cents" to the cost of a device and licensees get a discount for higher volume, he says. "It's a technology that's going to blossom," says Bill Ho, an analyst at industry consultant Current Analysis. "It's a lot faster than me hunting and pecking." The software first appeared on Samsung's Omnia II in December and has been used on other phones made by Motorola (MOT) and HTC. While Swype is now being used by—or is in talks with—companies that make more than 70 percent of the world's mobile phones, the technology may not soon appear on Apple (AAPL) devices. Swype was approached by Apple and asked to demonstrate its technology, McSherry says, explaining that Apple was impressed with his product but later expressed "disappointment" when he said Swype was licensing it to other phone makers. Apple spokesman Steve Dowling declined to comment. McSherry says there's no full version of Swype's software that works on Apple products, although a Swype engineer in his spare time has produced one that runs on Apple's iPad tablet computer. "It's helped us in a lot of our other carrier and [phonemaker] conversations that we don't have Apple as a partner right now," he says.