Back in 2018, Google introduced Smart Compose into our lives. The word completion and typo fixer feature quickly became a must have when writing emails -- especially for people whose English is not their mother tongue. Sounds great, right? Well, what if we were to tell you that an Israeli startup claims to do it better, faster, and in Hebrew?
Leaving the competition behind
During his service with the elite Unit 8200 of the Israel Defense Forces, Guy Katabi shares that he has spent his fair share of time with products from the Microsoft Office family: “ I searched Google for a tool to analyze typing patterns and save time. From there I started playing with this idea and thanks to my military background, it became something much more serious,” he says. After discovering that there is no such product on the market, he co-founded Lightkey in 2016 with Eran Brauer.
The Lightkey solution includes seven models that analyze the text you type in real-time, and as Katabi explains “many” of them are actually there to predict your next words. In addition, the tool also offers users features like typo corrections or when your grammar needs a bit of a touch up.
According to Katabi, each model plays a different part in the system: “One knows the language, one tracks typing history, one digs into your text’s topic, and each one leverages its advantage. The models are constantly updated and take less than 10 milliseconds to understand if it can suggest changes.” He notes that once installed, the system continuously learns its users, therefore providing more accurate writing suggestions.
And still, it’s hard not to compare the Lightkey system to its more popular counterparts at Google and Microsoft. However, according to Katabi, his company has a few notable advantages. First, the system being agnostic -- and not dedicated solely for Google or Microsoft products. Making it possible to utilize the tool for your social media; instant messaging apps, such as Slack or WhatsApp; work management tools like monday.com and Trello, as well as Salesforce, Zendesk, and others.
Katabi reveals another advantage; being that the Lightkey system is faster than the other tools on the market -- at five times faster than its competitors, the Israeli system can offer more writing suggestions over the same time span.
Of course, there’s also the privacy issue. Unlike its market competitors from Google and Microsoft, Lightkey operates on-premise and is available offline -- and the Israeli startup ensures that your private data will be left off the cloud. Katabi states that the system only transfers anonymized statistics of private users -- and users can also neutralize this. “As a veteran of the 8200 unit even on a moral level it was important to us that the users' information was not sent to the cloud at all, everything is processed on the computer. It is challenging for us because we do not use their data to improve the product, but rather use only public data, ”he says.
Supports Hebrew too
Where the Microsoft and Google products focus mainly on the English language -- Lightkey can predict text also in Hebrew (and in over 80 additional languages). Katabi tells me that while English is the core product -- mostly due to market size -- Hebrew has always been important to the Lightkey developers, primarily because the idea for the tool came from a need to predict texts in Hebrew.
“When we founded Lightkey we built it to be multilingual, with RTL support. My original pain came from there, back in the unit we wrote mostly in Hebrew, so it was crucial to have that option. Even at the most basic level I wanted it for myself too. Behind the scenes there is a very sophisticated system for learning patterns and it can be operated in any language,” he says.
As previously mentioned, Katabi explains that English is Tier-1 in terms of product focus, while Hebrew along with Latin languages -- French, Spanish, and Italian, are in the Tier-2 in terms of resources dedicated to their development. Nevertheless, he notes, that like every software tackling Hebrew’s right-to-left conundrum, it’s not an easy language to work with: “Certain poetic or biblical words can crash the system. There are so many complexities and nuances, and that’s the challenge. However, he also cites Russian and Korean as languages that have managed to challenge them even more than Hebrew. Incidentally languages like Chinese and Japanese have not yet been cracked because of their complexity.
Both of Lightkey’s founders, Katabi and Brauer, are veterans of the famed military intelligence and technological unit 8200. The two never met during their service, and met through a post saying “looking for a partner for an interesting startup”. The post was first discovered by Brauer’s wife, and wasn’t even posted by Katabi, but rather by one of his family members who eventually introduced the would be Lightkey founders. The Israeli startup sports hundreds of thousands of users in 170 countries using more than 80 different languages. So far the company has raised a small Pre-Seed round in addition to steady revenue from paying customers.
Katabi and Brauer explain that their financial model includes a limited performance but free product and a premium account; the Pro users receive unlimited text prediction and additional features for enterprise. According to the duo, the added value of the enterprise product is that Lightkey creates a prediction layer over the entire organizational network, thus improving the typing experience for every enterprise user.
The typing bottleneck
For the past few weeks, I've been testing Lightkey, making it part of my writing routine - to test its capabilities compared to my go-to tool - Smart Compose. In English, I must admit, I hardly felt the difference - though I did not sit down to type letter after letter like the people at Lightkey did. I felt the most difference with Hebrew, when Lightkey was able to quickly predict quite a few words that I intended to write - and this is what impressed me the most. Just as Katabi and Brauer promise, I’m sure that over time it will get even better.
While chatting with Katabi, he tells me that the vision behind the whole product is to, what he calls, eliminate the typing bottleneck -- the keyboard. “We think at a rate of 2,000 words per minute and write about 40 words. Typing is an insane traffic jam between you and the computer, "says Katabi, claiming that the idea is to be a bit like what Elon Musk's Neuralink wants to do -- minus the chip in our brain. "The vision is to take these thoughts and help you convert them to their digital form without having to deal with grammar and syntax, focusing on what’s important -- instead of the mechanics of typing."