As Siri continues making headlines and Google is hoping to turns heads with its Android Iris, Nuance Communications is making a bet of its own. Nuance has announced plans to acquire its archrival Vlingo. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Vlingo is a virtual assistant that promises to turn your words into action by combining voice to text technology, natural language processing, and Vlingo's Intent Engine to understand the user's intent and take the appropriate action. Founded in 2006, Vlingo is backed by Charles River Ventures, Sigma Partners, Yahoo and AT&T.
"Inspired by the introduction of services such as Apple's Siri and our own Dragon Go!, 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," said Mike Thompson, senior vice president and general manager of Nuance Mobile. "By acquiring Vlingo, we are able to accelerate the pace of innovation to meet this demand."
A $5 Billion Opportunity
Nuance pointed to an unprecedented demand for intelligent voice interfaces that combine voice, language understanding and semantic processing as its reason to make the acquisition. Nuance and Vlingo plan to combine their innovation and R&D skills to deliver next-generation natural language interfaces across markets and industries.
What's at stake? Nuance has pegged the virtual assistant and voice-enabled capabilities market as a $5 billion opportunity that spans phones, tablets, cars, televisions, navigation devices, music players, PCs and more. Apple's Siri has proven the point, and Google is entering the market with Iris.
Iris promises to make your phone talk on topics ranging from Mozart to stock prices. The name is no coincidence: Iris is Siri in reverse and was inspired by the iPhone feature. But just because two heavy hitters are in the mix doesn't mean Nuance is ceding the market to the household brand names.
Noteworthy is the fact that the new bedmates were once enemies, as recently as August, in fact. Nuance accused Vlingo of infringing on its patent for speech recognition systems. A jury in August found that Vlingo did not infringe on any of the 30 patent claims.
"It's distasteful that Nuance engages in this abuse of the legal system because it clogs our courts and stifles innovation," Mike Phillips, chief technology officer of Vlingo, said in August. "We hope this ruling demonstrates to the market and our customers that Vlingo won't be bullied by these tactics and will continue to deliver on innovation."
Joining Forces Against Apple
Bullied, no. Bought, yes. Who can afford to be enemies when you have Apple and Google to chase? Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, said anything Apple pursues becomes hot. Under the leadership of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, the company had the ability to turn the market by focusing on a particular technology or area.
"When you have a lot of buyers that are swarming around an idea, that provides an opportunity for companies to deliver that idea outside of the company that created the storm. That's what's happening here," Enderle said.
"This idea of taking the next step beyond voice command to a much stronger voice response technology in portable devices has proven to be compelling. Now we have a race as folks who aren't Apple try to build up their Siri-like products."