Apple exploring deal with voice recognition company Nuance

Sat, May 7, 2011

News, Rumors

In just about a month, Apple will take the wraps off of iOS 5. While we’re typically able to glean significant details about OS X upgrades from developer betas, we aren’t afforded the same inside look at Apple’s mobile OS.

To that end, what we know about iOS 5 is largely unsubstantiated, but that’s not to say that everything about iOS 5 will come as a complete surprise. Two of the more recurring rumors we’ve heard about iOS 5 center on location services and voice activation.

Regarding the latter, it’s been reported that iOS 5 will feature heavily integrated and advanced voice activation technology. Notably, Apple in 2010 purchased Siri, a company renowned for its voice activated search. Not too long ago we described Siri functionality thusly:

Siri’s technology also gives users the ability to accomplish other tasks via voice command such as booking a restaurant. Even cooler, and we’ll have to wait until June to see if this functionality persists, but the original Siri iPhone app allowed users to say a phrase like, “Tell my boss I’m going to be 15 minutes late.” Upon recognizing the command, the app then searched the user’s contact lists and social networks until it found someone designated as “boss”. The app would subsequently transcribe the command and send it as a text to the recipient in question.

Undoubtedly cool, and the technology powering Siri’s voice recognition is powered by Nuance. Indeed, Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking engine is the underlying technology behind a number of popular OS X and iOS apps.

With that as a backdrop, TechCrunch is reporting that Apple has been in negotiations with Nuance to strike some kind of deal. While an acquisition is possible, TechCrunch’s sources flesh out that a more likely outcome is a partnership “that will be vital to both companies and could shape the future of iOS.”

But because Apple prefers to do things its way, is it possible Apple might try and develop its own voice recognition technology? Well we suppose it’s possible, and indeed, Apple has been aggressively seeking out speech engineers over the past few months. Back in December, Apple put out job listings looking for three different types of engineers, all with an emphasis on voice recognition. One posting sought out an iOS Speech Application engineer, another a Speech Recognition Engineer, and the last a Senior Speech Research Scientist.

One of job postings reads in part:

Are you looking to contribute to a product that is redefining the smartphone? The iOS Application Frameworks team is looking for an exceptional Speech Engineer. You will work with our team on a wide variety of speech-related development activities. We need a team player – you will be working closely with engineers on the Application Frameworks team as well as other teams at Apple – and we need someone who is comfortable working in a fast paced environment with rapidly changing priorities.

Still, going it alone would prove to be a daunting task for Apple due to Nuance’s extensive patent portfolio. So what about a complete buy-out? Well, Nuance ain’t cheap. Nuance is a publicly traded corporation with a market cap of about $6 billion. Assuming Nuance would want some sort of premium, we’re talking about a hefty purchase price – especially for a company like Apple who’s largest acquisition to date was the $400 million it doled out when it acquired NeXT. Apple of course can afford it with tens of billions in the bank, but a deal that doesn’t involve a complete buy-out seems a lot more plausible.

Again, from what we’re hearing, all types of possibilities are still on the table, including an acquisition. But again, that’s not as likely as an expansive licensing agreement at this point. In buying Nuance, Apple would immediately screw over several other competitors that use the technology and it would bolster their position. And given what Google has been building, it seems unlikely that the government would have a big problem with the buy.

It would also give Apple something they always desire when possible: complete control over the technology on their devices.

Again, Apple will unveil iOS 5 at this year’s WWDC event, scheduled to kick off on June 6. iOS 5 is expected to ship alongside a new iPhone 5 model sometime this Fall. Apple of course utilizes software to push its hardware, and with voice recognition rumored to be a big part of iOS 5, we’ll have to wait and see what Apple has in store for us.


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1 Comments For This Post

  1. AdamC Says:

    I hope Apple don’t go the road goog is going by doing some tasks through voice because in a couple of years many will forget how to spell.

    Don’t believe check the comments section readers are using the wrong word just because they sounded the same as the corrrect ones.

    Sad, only know how to talk but don’t know how to write.

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