As the global market for smartphones matures, it is clear that the default keyboard platform is going to be key for product differentiation. That's why it is so interesting that up-and-coming Chinese OEM, TCL Communications Technology Holdings Ltd, has expanded its licensing agreement with Nuance, making Swype the default keyboard for its line of Android-based smartphones sold in the U.S. In its latest report of device shipments, TCL claims sales volume of smartphones grew 126% in June, when compared to the same month last year, exceeding 1.3 million units. Of the nearly 21 million phones sold globally in the first six months of 2013, over 18 million were sold outside the Chinese domestic market. 4.3 million were smartphones, selling under the he Alcatel OneTouch brand as well as TCL's own Idol X branding.
Like Samsung, TCL is a well-diversified consumer electronics manufacturer with a major presence in the flat-screen TV market. Its management expects the geographic expansion of its smartphone sales to fuel growth and profits in the coming years. If it does so, it will be at the expense of Samsung, HTC and Google's own Motorola brand. Matt Revis, Vice President of Dragon Devices at Nuance, points out that the company had its choice of a number of less expensive alternatives to Swype to support touch-based input, including the "free" default keyboard that ships with the Android operating system.
"This is representative of a situation where you have a company that is positioned to grow globally and looking for an innovation partner to make it a category leader," Revis explained. "They are working with Nuance."
Indeed, it is a signal event for Nuance and Swype, which is already available for free download from Google Play. While Nuance would not provide revenue estimates for the licensing agreement, the impact can be expected to be significant, given TCL's ambitious growth expectations in the coming year. A virtuous circle has been established whereby an aggressive manufacturer recognizes that innovation will be key to growth and has recognized the need to cement a relationship with a firm that has been steadily investing in improving the technologies that support touch-based and multimodal input - both through internal development and acquisition.