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Nuance acquires Vlingo to deliver Siri-like intelligent voice interfaces

post #1 of 24
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Nuance has announced plans to acquire Vlingo in order to deliver a new generation of voice-based, natural language interfaces for a variety of consumer and professional markets the company sees as being a $5 billion opportunity.

In a press release, Nuance Mobile's senior vice president Mike Thompson said that "virtually every mobile and consumer electronics company on the planet is looking for ways to integrate natural, conversational voice interactions into their mobile products, applications, and services," and said the acquisition of Vlingo would "accelerate the pace of innovation to meet this demand."

Nuance did not specify the terms of the acquisition. Vlingo, incorporated in 2006, is a closely held company backed by Charles River Ventures, Sigma Partners, Yahoo and AT&T, and is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In addition to voice to text capabilities, Vlingo maintains an "Intent Engine" to parse what a user says and determine the desired actions, which is more compatible to Apple's Siri technology than the raw speech recognition tools offered by Google, Microsoft, and Nuance itself.

Thompson said the industry has been "inspired" by the introduction of services such as Apple's Siri (which incorporates Nuance voice recognition technology) and his own company's Dragon Go mobile app that delivers voice based search (below).



Vlingo chief executive Dave Grannan added that "Vlingo and Nuance have long shared a similar vision for the power and global proliferation of mobile voice and language understanding," adding that "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."

Nuance had previously sued Vlingo over patent infringement, losing one case in August before maintaining that it had additional legal action planned against the company.
Back in May, Apple was reported to be working closely with Nuance to license its technology for continued use in Siri, which it had acquired the previous year. It was rumored that Microsoft "had been pushing Apple hard" to use its own Bing voice recognition technology within iOS 5.

Apple ultimately delivered Siri using Nuance technology in its back end, causing lead developers from both Microsoft and Google to first describe Siri as nothing new and not the right direction for mobile devices, then backpedal with claims that they were actually ahead of Apple in voice assistant technologies, despite Apple's implementation being clearly superior at the moment.

Vlingo and Dragon Go are frequently cited among the short list of apps that are comparable to Siri, although Vlingo is often noted as having less accurate recognition capabilities, while Nuance's own app is aimed more at searching for information rather than integrating deeply into device features to perform functions such as Siri's ability to send messages to family members, manage appointments, and interact with other apps such as Find My Friends.
post #2 of 24
It's rather obvious Nuance feels the pressure to find some innovation in natural language or see it's company dry up.

Talk amongst `yer-selves.'
post #3 of 24
I don't get why Apple has left anything out there for others to scrape up, why didn't they either buy this company or license everything exclusively. It is Apple who have made the paradigm shift in VR here by, as usual, improving on existing technology to the point it becomes a must have and seem entirely new.
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post #4 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

In a press release, Nuance Mobile's senior vice president Mike Thompson said that "virtually every mobile and consumer electronics company on the planet is looking for ways to integrate natural, conversational voice interactions into their mobile products, applications, and services,"...

Of course they are. Now that Apple, leading the way, has opened up the market. \
post #5 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

I don't get why Apple has left anything out there for others to scrape up, why didn't they either buy this company or license everything exclusively. It is Apple who have made the paradigm shift in VR here by, as usual, improving on existing technology to the point it becomes a must have and seem entirely new.

Buy Nuance?

Nuance is valued at over $6B. That's really expensive. Obviously Apple can afford it but Apple has never paid more than $500M for an acquisition. I think it made more sense for them to license Nuance tech until they can develop their own in-house which is probably what they'll do.
post #6 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wurm5150 View Post

Buy Nuance?

Nuance is valued at over $6B. That's really expensive. Obviously Apple can afford it but Apple has never paid more than $500M for an acquisition. I think it made more sense for them to license Nuance tech until they can develop their own in-house which is probably what they'll do.

I hope Apple licensed everything so tightly and there are patents up to the eyeballs. I'd hate see Apple copied by everyone else, yet again. $6B might seem cheap in hind sight if Google et al manage to replicate Siri with Nuance's help. Before Apple VR was, 'here is a list of commands the computer/phone/car understands ...'

By the way was Nuance valued that high last year? I dont know, just wondering if Siri has helped?
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post #7 of 24
This has antitrust written all over it.
post #8 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by mdriftmeyer View Post

It's rather obvious Nuance feels the pressure to find some innovation in natural language or see it's company dry up.

Talk amongst `yer-selves.'

Nuance already bests vlingo in natural language. Buying vlingo removes a competitor, especially in the mobile space and specifically one that could be used by Apple. Siri, as originally designed, is modular and could use vlingo as easily as nuance for the analysis backend. Apple choose to stay with nuance because it is superior. Buying vlingo removes a possible negotiating obstacle that Apple could use to get better terms from Nuance in the future.

This is par for the course. Nuance has acquired 50+ companies in the last decade. Speech in particular has been a huge growth centre for them much of which has been through acquisitions.

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post #9 of 24
Nuance reported a $5 million dollar loss last quarter. I wouldn't have figured that.
Quote:
Originally Posted by tussmuss View Post

This has antitrust written all over it.

I think Nuance mostly bought Vlingo to remove a potential threat but I see nothing anti-competitive about their purchase. I can't find any evidence that they have an unnatural advantage, monopoly, or have done anything illegal.

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post #10 of 24
Other than what is being reported, I haven't seen any solid proof that Siri relies on Nuance. If the original Siri did not rely on Nuance, why would the new Siri be based on Nuance?
post #11 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by KDMeister View Post

Other than what is being reported, I haven't seen any solid proof that Siri relies on Nuance. If the original Siri did not rely on Nuance, why would the new Siri be based on Nuance?

The original used nuance. Hell, Siri and Nuance were both SRI spinoffs.

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post #12 of 24
Siri will always have an advantage over other app based Virtual Assistants since its integrated deeply and basically a part of iOS..
post #13 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by KDMeister View Post

Other than what is being reported, I haven't seen any solid proof that Siri relies on Nuance. If the original Siri did not rely on Nuance, why would the new Siri be based on Nuance?

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Sejnoha is faithful to the code of omerta that Apple imposes on its vendors. Although Nuance has supplied technology both to Apple and to Siri before its 2010 acquisition by Apple, he declined to discuss Nuance’s role in the iPhone 4S: “We have a great relationship with Apple. We license technology to them for a number of products. I am not able to go into greater detail. But we are very excited by what they have done. It’s a huge validation of the maturity of the speech market.”

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post #14 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tulkas View Post

The original used nuance. Hell, Siri and Nuance were both SRI spinoffs.

Actually Siri originally used Vlingo before switching to Nuance..
post #15 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wurm5150 View Post

Actually Siri originally used Vlingo before switching to Nuance..

Not in their released product, AFAIK. Certainly, the version deployed when Apple bought the company was using Nuance. In any event, either case shows the modularity of Siri's design.

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post #16 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wurm5150 View Post

Siri will always have an advantage over other app based Virtual Assistants since its integrated deeply and basically a part of iOS..

That is a current advantage of Apple's implementation -- it's integration into iOS and Apple's core apps.

I expect that Apple will expand that integration, in both depth and breadth, with it's next Siri release.


However, someone like Google or MS could take the same approach with their OS and core apps.

Apple, likely, has a 2-year advantage.


What will really be interesting is how and when Apple will open up Siri to 3rd-party apps/developers.

Here, Apple has a significant advantage over Google and, likely, a somewhat lesser advantage over MS.

Apple's curated app solution lends itself to providing secure inter-app services such as those Siri can provide.

Also, Apple has a proven, existing [Mac OS X] technology that would allow easy implementation of Siri services...

I am referring to OAS or AppleScript. This allows an app to register the services it can supply by defining a dictionary. The dictionary provides a rigorous access linkage to the app's services. Then it provides those services to others via the OS (Siri) through a scripting language.

Simply stated, this allows the OS or any app to ask another app to perform services on its behalf and get returned results.

There are sandboxing issues that need to be resolved -- but these are currently being addressed by Apple on Lion.
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post #17 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by KDMeister View Post

Other than what is being reported, I haven't seen any solid proof that Siri relies on Nuance. If the original Siri did not rely on Nuance, why would the new Siri be based on Nuance?

Nuance provides the speech-to-text engine. The Siri AI then processes the text to determine meaning and intent.
post #18 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

I think Nuance mostly bought Vlingo to remove a potential threat but I see nothing anti-competitive about their purchase.

Am I missing something??? Buying a company to remove a competitor isn't anti-competitive?? If that's really what they are doing, it's the definition of anti-competitive. If the FTC doesn't think there's any advantage to consumers, they can nullify the deal. I doubt they will, however, given the small size of these companies. The FTC doesn't have the funding to deal with these small fries.
post #19 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by [Greg] View Post

Am I missing something??? Buying a company to remove a competitor isn't anti-competitive?? If that's really what they are doing, it's the definition of anti-competitive. If the FTC doesn't think there's any advantage to consumers, they can nullify the deal. I doubt they will, however, given the small size of these companies. The FTC doesn't have the funding to deal with these small fries.

Making purchases to better your position in the market is neither illegal no criticized.

Which anticompetitive practice would it fall under?

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post #20 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

Making purchases to better your position in the market is neither illegal no criticized.

The main problem is that if Nuance acquires Vlingo, Nuance will be the only speech recognition player in the market. No other company will be able to compete with them. Sure, Google has cloud-based ASR capabilities, but they are confined to the Android platform. Even if Vlingo's speech recognition is not exactly on-par with Nuance, they're still vital as a competitor, ensuring that speech recognition technology continues to evolve and is not the exclusive domain of a single market player.

And yes - Apple is definitely using Nuance. In addition to the fact that Apple simply doesn't have the in-house expertise to deliver speech recognition on the level of Nuance, Siri's American English voice is clearly one of the U.S. English TTS voices provided by Nuance.
post #21 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by tussmuss View Post

The main problem is that if Nuance acquires Vlingo, Nuance will be the only speech recognition player in the market. No other company will be able to compete with them. Sure, Google has cloud-based ASR capabilities, but they are confined to the Android platform. Even if Vlingo's speech recognition is not exactly on-par with Nuance, they're still vital as a competitor, ensuring that speech recognition technology continues to evolve and is not the exclusive domain of a single market player.

And yes - Apple is definitely using Nuance. In addition to the fact that Apple simply doesn't have the in-house expertise to deliver speech recognition on the level of Nuance, Siri's American English voice is clearly one of the U.S. English TTS voices provided by Nuance.

I wouldn't rule out google so quickly. They are investing in speech and I don't think they will limit it to Android. These days, for speech, within Nuance and others, it's all about 'data, data, data'. Speech analysis algorithms will continue to improve, but the real need for natural language is larger and larger datasets. IMO, this is exactly why google introduced transcription for their GV voicemail. Millions of VM messages, left in conversational tone, gives them access to a huge resource. Nuance sells a similar service to corporations, but I would doubt their agreements allow them to collect the VMs for their own use.

If data is key to the future of voice, then google is sitting on a mountain and collecting more samples all day everyday.

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post #22 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

Making purchases to better your position in the market is neither illegal no criticized.

Which anticompetitive practice would it fall under?

Uh... it falls under absorption of a competitor... It also falls under monopolization (see the right sidebar of the Wiki you linked to).
post #23 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by [Greg] View Post

Uh... it falls under absorption of a competitor... It also falls under monopolization (see the right sidebar of the Wiki you linked to).

Where is the proof Nuance has a monopoly or that it's been had illegally? Why is the purchase known but no reports of the government blocking the buy if it's so clearly anti-competitive?

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post #24 of 24
Take a look at OmniPage, which used to be the best OCR program out there. Nuance bought the company, and the last version they sell for Mac is OmniPage X. They still sell it for $499, even though it hasn't been upgraded in 10 years. Maybe that's what the X is for!

I'm very skeptical it will run on Lion but nowhere can you find that on their product page.


The Dragon Dictation software for Mac is also far inferior to the Windows version and is priced very high. The company charges you more for an electronic download than for the boxed version of the software, and the activation codes restrict use to 1 machine.

Nuance is an awful company that is in the business of squeezing every last drop of profit from their software acquisitions.
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