Keyboard is the central element on over two billion Android devices. While keyboards come preloaded on many of the smartphones, there are third-party apps like SwiftKey which too have made their mark in this space. One such third-party keyboard is the ‘Mint Keyboard’. This keyboard is preloaded on various Xiaomi smartphones, but is also available to download for all Android users via the Google Play Store. We caught up with Ankit Prasad, CEO and Founder of Bobble AI in a wide-ranging interview. Prasad spoke about Bobble AI, developing Mint Keyboard, competing with tech juggernauts and more. Here is an excerpt from the interview, lightly edited for clarity.
Q. What is the target install base for the Mint Keyboard this year?
Prasad: Mint Keyboard is officially the part of MIUI v11.0, and is currently being preloaded in various Xiaomi devices across India. While there are over 85 million active Xiaomi smartphones, we are looking at an install base of a few million devices initially. However, the keyboard won’t be limited to only Xiaomi devices. We are determined to create a keyboard that works across India for every Indian.
Q. Mint Keyboard will come as default input method on new devices, and not on existing devices. What is the strategy behind this move?
P: Mint Keyboard is also available for existing Xiaomi devices, it can be downloaded from Google Play by anyone including the non-Xiaomi smartphone users. We care about user experience and satisfaction, therefore we want the new keyboard adoption to happen voluntarily and not forcefully.
Q. How is the Mint Keyboard different from the biggies like Google’s Gboard and Microsoft Swiftkey?
P: We understand Indian users and their behavior, keeping in mind that we have developed features that serve their daily needs. We have observed that 90 percent of users prefer to send emojis in 70 percent of their messages. In order to enhance user experience, we have given emojis similar visibility as alphabets. Unlike Gboard and Swiftkey, we have an entire row dedicated to emojis that adapts to the user’s typing style. We also have four modes of autocorrect – light, moderate, strict and turn-off and strict is most formal.
We also give users an option to design the tone of their conversation according to their needs. In the Mint keyboard, there are a number of such differences. My personal favorite is the security themed keyboard, which appears while inputting secure or sensitive information (passwords, credit card information, etc). This feature reinforces the belief that we care about our users’ data security and privacy. This keyboard is primarily designed for MIUI fans.
Q. Can you tell us about the data collected by Mint Keyboard for the personalization of UX?
P: At Mint, we only collect a minimal amount of data needed to improvise user experience. We collect this data only after taking consent of the user. The data collected by us helps in features like word prediction, emoticon prediction, content prediction, and in improving autocorrect. Most of the processing is done on the handset itself, but even when we have to take data to the server for larger processing, we first encrypt and then anonymize it. Such data is kept on the servers in India, but only for a short period of time.
Q. Can you name other smartphone makers that you are talking about preloading your keyboard?
P: Hopefully, in the near future, we shall be able to share the name of other smartphone makers as well.
Q. Do you see GDPR and actions taken by the European Commission against Google’s business practices favorable to you? Do you have plans to expand your keyboard to those markets?
P: GDPR is a strong law and European commission has set the benchmark for the world. If any company violates any law, be it Google, it is bound to get punished. In fact, the European Commission has been ahead of other geographies in regulating the competitive environment in technologies, and smartphone space. However, Google’s loss in Europe does not favor us since it continues to deploy similar practices in India and other parts of the world. I hope to see CCI, India’s regulating body, take the matter seriously before it gets too late and dangerous for the startup ecosystem. However, we do have the plan to expand in Europe possibly in 2021.
Q. Can you also tell us about your alternative to Google Assistant? When can we expect to see this digital assistant on smartphones?
P: Bobble AI is building a strong automatic speech recognition engine for India. Our ASR engine will work with Indian languages and will truly understand our diverse accents and dialects. We are building this on top of speech-to-text, one of the core features in the keyboard input method. Along with that, a full-fledged assistant software requires speech to intent prediction as well. We would welcome any OEM willing to work with us for this initiative. People are well aware of the power of voice input, and the massive increase in adoption it has shown in the recent past. We are in advanced stages of conversation and are confident of choosing a partner soon.