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Swype Grabs More Funding, Looks to Trace Path Into New Areas

Swype, the Seattle company known for its fast text-entry method, is looking to speed its growth even further.

The 70-person start-up is in the midst of rolling out new versions of its software and taking on additional funding. The company just closed $3.5 million in funding from Ignition Partners and expects to announce deals with other backers in the coming weeks.

Ignition partner Adrian Smith said he is glad to be investing in the company, since he’s been doing unpaid advertisements for the technology for quite a while now. “I’ve actually been an avid Swype user since the beta came out,” he told Mobilized.

For those who don’t know Swype, it augments the standard mobile device software keyboard by allowing users to trace the word they are trying to enter rather than pecking away one key at a time. The company’s software is loaded on about 26 million phones so far and is the default means of text entry on about half of those.

CEO Mike McSherry declined to say whether the company is profitable, but suggested the new funding was more about the opportunity to cement relationships than needing the money.

“This was an opportunistic fund raise for us,” McSherry said.

The new funding follows investments of roughly $6.5 million in late 2009 and early 2010 from Nokia, Samsung and DoCoMo, among others.

Next up on the product front is the addition of predictive text to the traditional Swype motion.

“We think that is going to be received very well,” McSherry said.

Most of the company’s business is being preloaded on Android phones, especially from Samsung, HTC and Motorola, though it is also adopted on Symbian phones as well as older Windows Mobile 6.5 devices.

Neither the iPhone nor Windows Phone 7 allow third parties to customize their software keyboards, effectively shutting out Swype on those platforms. However, McSherry said that the company has had talks with both companies.

“We want ubiquity and scale, so of course we would like to be on those,” he said. “We’ll see where those chips fall.”

The company also has its eye on tablets and other devices, as well as ways in which Swype could play a broader role in the phone’s user interface.

From McSherry’s way of thinking, the keyboard can be a starting point rather than just the last step in navigating a cell phone or other device. Why not, he suggests, start typing and then make a gesture to send the entered text as an email or to search the Web. McSherry said he can imagine even being on televisions and having a direct connection to a cloud service.

McSherry said that the partnership between Nokia and Microsoft could open things up on the WIndows Phone front, given that Nokia is a big backer of Swype, with CEO Stephen Elop tweeting in December about Swype as the best means to enter text.

“I would hope that would help us in trying to get on that platform,” McSherry said.

Smith said he likes the core technology because it allows people to be more productive on their phones. “You can Swype much more quickly than you can hunt and peck,” he said. But, he agreed that Swype needs to be more than just a one-hit wonder to reach its full potential. “There are a lot more things that they can do,” Smith said. “To me, if it was just a keyboard entry it wouldn’t be very exciting.”

News of Swype’s latest fundraising was reported earlier by Seattle-area tech news site GeekWire.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work