Why is Apple hiring Nuance engineers? Apparently to replace Siri’s Nuance-powered backend

Nuance, the company that originally created the backend for the Siri mobile app that would later become the built-in virtual assistant in the iPhone 4S, has powered the speech recognition for the service ever since it launched. However, a new report suggests Apple may be looking to replace the company’s technology with a newer, faster system that could provide more accurate results.

A new Wired report cites several recent Siri-related Apple hires as evidence that the company is working on something big for the system’s next update. This isn’t really a new idea: rumors have been swirling since 2011 that Apple was investigating its own speech-to-text solution. That same year, Siri co-founder Norman Winarsky (not to be confused with current Siri Speech Manager David Winarsky) told 9to5Mac:

Read more

Review: Dragon Dictate 4.0 for Mac – The best speech recognition app gets even better

Dragon-Dictate-4-01

Using our voice to control computers has never really taken off. For many of us, using voice recognition technology wasn’t even a consideration until features like dictation and Siri arrived on our iPhones and iPads. There’s good reason too: the voice recognition features built into our devices have always had the reputation of being half-baked. They simply aren’t accurate and consistent enough to replace our tried and trusted mouse and keyboard or touchscreen. While half decent dictation features come with every Mac (and are powered by Nuance’s technology), the voice recognition features you get with latest version of Nuance’s Dragon Dictate for Mac go well beyond simply dictating speech to text.  Read more

Swype VP confirms talks with Apple on revolutionary keyboard technology

Swype-keyboard-iOS-nuanceWe reported earlier this week over on our sister site 9to5Google that the extremely popular Swype keyboard was now available for Android users on Google Play. Unfortunately its arrival came after the implementation of the similar Gesture Typing feature that Google introduced in Jelly Bean. While we know Swype owner Nuance has a pretty tight relationship with Apple through its voice recognition technology being used in Siri (although Siri’s co-founder told us Apple could “likely replace Nuance without too much trouble”), a Swype exec has now confirmed the company has had talks with Apple over its revolutionary keyboard tech.

iFans points us to a Reddit AMA with Swype Vice President Aaron Sheedy where the executive confirms discussions with Apple have taken place: Read more

Nuance launches ‘Voice Ads’ platform to bring a Siri-like experience to mobile advertising

If Nuance gets its way with the just announced ‘Voice Ads’ mobile advertising platform, soon every mobile ad could include Siri-like functionality that lets you communicate with and ask questions about the product being advertised.

Nuance, the company behind the voice recognition module now used in Apple’s Siri, today announced a new project to bring its voice recognition technology to the mobile advertising world. The basic concept of the new platform, which Nuance made available through an SDK for advertising companies, is to bring a two-way, interactive conversation to mobile ads. As highlighted by Nuance in the video above, ads that implement the Voice Ads platform will allow users to engage in a Siri-like conversation with an advertisement:

Nuance Voice Ads gives mobile advertisers and creative agencies an opportunity to go beyond the limitations of the four-inch mobile device screen and create a conversation with consumers through the power of voice recognition. Voice Ads finally creates an opportunity for brands to deepen the relationship with their consumers, with targeted interactive ads that deeply engage their core audience – much in the way that the world’s most popular mobile personal assistants have deepened consumers’ relationship with their mobile phones.

In the demo above, Nuance shows an advertisement for a fictional deodorant brand that uses a magic 8-ball theme to answer any question that users might have. The ad of course ends in a pitch for the product in question, as you might expect. Other ads could allow users to ask specific questions about a product’s release date or specs…
Read more

Apple in Shanghai court over Siri speech recognition patent infringement claims

Siri promo video (text message reply 001)AFP reported Apple is in court in Shanghai, China again today, but this time it’s over a lawsuit alleging the company copied components of Siri’s speech recognition software. According to the report, Shanghai-based Zhizhen Network Technology Co. claimed in pretrial proceedings that Apple infringed its patent related to voice recognition technology via Siri. While the suit notes that development of Siri began in 2007, there is no mention of Nuance. Apple currently partners Nuance with to implement the speech recognition component in Siri, and it is also a market leader that presumably has its own arsenal of speech recognition related patents.

Zhizhen says it patented its “Xiao i Robot” software in 2004, while Apple’s Siri, which made its debut with the release of the iPhone 4S in 2011, was first developed in 2007.

“The company will ask Apple to stop manufacturing and selling products using its patent rights, once Apple’s infringement is confirmed,” Si Weijiang, a lawyer representing Zhizhen, told AFP.

“We don’t exclude the possibility of demanding compensation in the future,” he added.

The company is behind Siri-like software called ‘Xiao i Robot’ that it claimed was first developed before Siri in 2004. The technology is apparently available on some smart TVs and enterprise applications, but it doesn’t appear to be available as a consumer-facing app for smartphones or tablets. The video below appeared online when the company originally filed suit against Apple last year, and it shows the Xiao i Robot software running on a Lenovo smartphone:

Apps & updates: iTranslate Voice HD, Twittelator Neue, Total Recall, and more

Today’s noteworthy apps and updates list kicks off with the recently released iPad version of iTranslate Voice. As always, we will update the list throughout the day as more apps hit the store…

iTranslate Voice HD: iTranslate Voice is a great new iPad app, as it is one of the most unique pieces of word translation software on the market. Instead of typing words into an app, you talk in your language, and then the app will respond in the language of your choice. The entire thing is powered by Nuance—the same company that powers Apple’s Dictation on the iPhone 4S, new iPad, and Mountain Lion computers. So you know it is reliable. We have used the app for a while, and it is super helpful and easy to use. For those who are not a fan of voice, text-based translations are available. Thirty-one languages work in the app in addition to word defining. Sharing is also present. We highly recommend this iPad app. An iPhone version has also been available for some time, and it recently received a big update with new gestures and languages.

Twittelator Neue version 2.1:The popular iPhone twitter client Twittelator Neue and Twittelator Free were both updated today with the following new features and improvements:

Read more

Siri vs S-Voice on Samsung’s Galaxy S III

The Verge recently went hands on with Samsung’s new flagship Galaxy S III launched earlier this month and during its review put the device’s new Vlingo-powered “S-Voice” feature up against Siri on the iPhone 4S. Other than the striking resemblance to Siri’s UI and canned responses, the first thing we notice is Siri appears to be much quicker than S-Voice running on the Galaxy S III.

When asked “Who is the president of France”, Siri quickly asks to search the web, while S-Voice takes a little longer but comes up with the correct answer. However, in most scenarios, both Siri and S-Voice request to search the web for the majority of the same queries. You’ll also notice S-Voice has no problem keeping up with Siri when scheduling appointments, but both have some of the same issues understanding The Verge’s commands.

S Voice consistently chews up my words when I try asking it questions, although it works better when instructed to schedule an appointment or set an alarm. It can also be used as an unlocking mechanism once you pre-record a pass phrase. That adds to the face unlocking option that’s native to Android 4.0 in being frustratingly unwieldy and planted firmly within gimmick territory — more than once I was stuck repeating “hello” without any recognition from the phone.

While we don’t have all of the info on S-Voice, we know it is using voice recognition technology from Vlingo, the same as the previous Voice Commander feature for the Galaxy S II. Last December Nuance acquired Vlingo. It’s no secret Apple is currently using Nuance to power speech in Siri, and Siri co-founder Norman Winarsky told us in October that Siri originally used Vlingo, but that Nuance has by far the most IP in speech synthesis technologies”. However, he also noted Apple could likely easily replace Nuance if something better was available.
Read more

Tip: Bring Siri’s voice to your Mac with Samantha downloadable Voice for Lion

Since the introduction of Nuance speech technology in OS X Lion, which provides several new voice options in system preferences for the System Voice, many have compared the voice of Nuance-powered Siri on iPhone 4S to the improved text-to-speech included as free downloads within Lion. As noted by Reddit user Moosehadley, what you might not have realized is the downloadable “Samantha” voice for Lion is the same as Siri’s in the United States. Here is how to download it:

Open System Preferences> Speech> Text to Speech>System Voice> Customize> and select “Samantha” from the list. Apple will ask you to confirm the 469MB install.

Read more

For iOS users without Siri, there is Evi

We have seen Siri clones in the Android Market trying to pass themselves off as the real thing, and some Siri alternatives making their way to the Windows Phone Marketplace. Evi, on the other hand, might actually be the first true Siri competitor/alternative for Android and non-iPhone 4S iOS users.

Available on the App Store for 99 cents and free to Android users on the Android Market, Evi is the work of True Knowledge and its “core semantic search technology” better known as The True Knowledge Answer Engine. The 99-cent price tag on iOS is apparently to cover the cost of using Nuance voice recognition (the same voice recognition tech as Siri), which is not used in the Android version.

The app’s iTunes page explained Evi is capable of returning local data for the United Kingdom (along with the United States), which has been a complaint from U.K. Siri users since the iPhone 4S launch. According to TechCrunch, the app uses “an ontology of tens of thousands of classes into which” every possible user command can be recognized. True Knowledge said the app contains “almost a billion ‘facts’ (machine understandable bits of knowledge)” with the ability to infer trillions if necessary. It also reportedly uses all the expected sources, such as local results from Yelp, third-party websites, traditional web searches, and APIs.

While as of yet Evi is incapable of integrating with Calendar and Reminders like Siri, TechCrunch pointed out it sometimes provides more accurate and useful results for certain types of questions. Siri requests to search the web for an answer when users ask certain questions, such as “How do I make apple pie?” Evi, however, would provide a list of recipes with relevant links to that specific question. TechCrunch highlighted another example where Evi excels:

Read more

Nuance launches ‘Dragon TV’ voice-controlled platform ahead of rumored Siri-powered Apple HDTV

Nuance, the speech recognition company currently powering Apple’s Siri in the iPhone 4S, announced (via TechCrunch) it would be dropping a new voice-controlled TV platform known as “Dragon TV.” Apple is —of course— expected to include Siri-like voice capabilities in the rumored Apple branded HDTV, but Dragon TV has beat them to it with a platform that will enable users to find “content by speaking channel numbers, station names, show and movie names.”

Nuance Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: NUAN) today unveiled Dragon TV, a unique voice and natural language understanding platform for TV, device and set-top box OEMs and service operators. Dragon TV makes finding and accessing shows, movies and content in today’s digital living room easy and fun for consumers.

Nuance provided a few examples of what type of voice-control commands might work on the platform, such as “Go to PBS” or “Find comedies with Vince Vaughn,” but a user’s commands could include “virtually anything.” The company also announced the platform will include social and messaging features, such as email, Twitter, messaging, Skype, and Facebook. Those features will also be voice-controlled allowing a user to use voice-commands, such as “Send message to Julie: ‘Old School is on TBS again this weekend – super excited’”.

According to the press release, the Dragon TV platform is already available to television and device OEMs with support for “all major TV, set-top box, remote control and application platforms.” As for specific platforms, the press release mentions Linux, Android, and iOS. There is —of course— a possibility that the technology used in the Dragon TV platform will land in a version of Siri for an Apple TV device.

Senior Vice President and General Manager at Nuance Mobile Mike Thompson said this regarding the announcement:

Read more

Nuance acquires speech recognition competitor Vlingo, Apple’s speech engine choices dwindle

There are fewer options for speech recognition these days, and now there are even fewer with Nuance announcing they acquired Vlingo for an undisclosed figure. Following multiple lawsuits related to patent infringement, the two companies apparently came to what CEO of Vlingo Dave Grannan called  “a good outcome.” Grannan elaborated in a prepared statement (via AllThingsD):

Vlingo and Nuance have long shared a similar vision for the power and global proliferation of mobile voice and language understanding. As a result of our complementary research and development efforts, our companies are stronger together than alone. Our combined resources afford us the opportunity to better compete, and offer a powerful proposition to customers, partners and developers.

Vlingo is notably used in various voice-controlled Android apps, and it is viewed as competitors to Apple’s Siri built into the iPhone 4S. However, Siri, also used it prior to it being used by Apple, before switching to Nuance…

In an interview with 9to5Mac, Siri co-founder Norman Winarsky said Vlingo was originally used as the speech recognition component of Siri before switching to Nuance. He noted: “Theoretically, if a better speech recognition comes along (or Apple buys one), they could likely replace Nuance without too much trouble. ” The full quote is below.

9to5Mac: How important is Nuance speech recognition to the Siri technology? Read more

It must be the accent

Microsoft’s Craig Mundie shoved his foot knee deep in his mouth this week when he said that Siri was nothing special, and Microsoft’s own voice capabilities have been around for over a year.  The reason for Siri’s success?  Marketing, of course.

People are infatuated with Apple announcing it. It’s good marketing, but at least as the technological capability you could argue that Microsoft has had a similar capability in Windows Phones for more than a year, since Windows Phone 7 was introduced.

To be fair, Siri isn’t even about the Voice Recognition, it is what the iPhone does with it.  The voice recognition is outsourced to Nuance’s engine. The Microsoft Phone barely made it to the point where you could make sense out of what its engine produced.

If you were Microsoft, would you rather Mundie be so out of touch with the technology he is talking about that he can’t tell the difference, or that he’s just flat out shamelessly lying?

Read more