In a move that has some wondering if the e-tailing giant plans to challenge Apple on the Siri front, Amazon on Thursday announced the acquisition of a text-to-speech technology company. Amazon purchased Ivona Software for an undisclosed amount.
Amazon and Gdynia, Poland-based Ivona are not strangers. Ivona's technologies power several features on the Kindle Fire tablets. Beyond Amazon, Ivona also delivers text-to-speech products and services for thousands of developers, businesses and customers globally, including the Royal National Institute of Blind People.
"Ivona is already instrumental in helping us deliver excellent accessibility features on Kindle Fire, including Text-to-Speech, Voice Guide and Explore by Touch," said Dave Limp, vice president of Kindle at Amazon. Limp did not indicate what more Amazon would do with the technology, but hinted that the company looks forward to "building great products to deliver world-class voice solutions to customers around the world."
Compared to Siri
Ivona offers voice and language portfolios with 44 voices in 17 languages, and more in development. Of course, Amazon would have to do plenty more development on Ivona to make it a Siri competitor. That's because Siri is more than voice recognition software -- it's an intelligent assistant.
Siri understands context, allowing you to speak naturally when you ask it questions, for example, if you ask, "Will I need an umbrella this weekend?" it understands you are looking for a weather forecast.
Siri is also smart about using the personal information you allow it to access, for example, if you tell Siri, "Remind me to call Mom when I get home" it can find "Mom" in your iPhone's address book; or ask Siri, "What's the traffic like around here?" and it can figure out where "here" is based on your GPS location.
Room for All
But it seems Ivona could be further developed into an intelligent assistant. And Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told us there will be plenty of opportunity as we head into a future that promises a paradigm shift in the way people interact with technology.
"Instead of using one device to interface with another device -- like using a mouse or a keyboard to interface with the computer -- the touch-enablement we are seeing in smartphones and tablets and the increasing availability of voice recognition as a way of interfacing with a computing-style device is become increasingly common," King said.
King predicts there will not be a single type of voice recognition technology used across platforms. Instead, he expects the major players, namely Apple and Google and now Amazon, to enhance their brands with discreet types of voice recognition and voice command software.
"I find myself wondering how much difference there can be," he said. "When you talk about one vendor or another's voice recognition software it's kind of like talking about the difference between the online shopping experience you have with one site or another. But it's going to be a pretty big deal from the end-user perspective."