There’s been plenty of talk about how Siri is improving, but new acquisitions could give a more accurate voice to the digital assistant. Apple has reportedly acquired Perceptio and VocalIQ.
Perceptio is a startup that is developing technology that would allow companies to run advanced artificial intelligence systems on iPhones while guarding privacy. In a separate deal, Apple snapped up VocalIQ, a United Kingdom-based startup that is developing ways to improve a computer’s ability to not only discern the words we speak into it but speak more naturally.
Apple was not immediately available for comment but it did confirm the acquisitions in public statements. Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed. Although it's not yet apparent how much these acquisitions could help Apple compete against Google and Microsoft on the voice recognition front, the company seems to be moving in the right direction.
New and Improved
We asked Greg Sterling, vice president of strategy and insight at the Local Search Association, to get his thoughts on Apple’s buys. He told us Siri currently lags behind both Google Now and Microsoft's Cortana in several respects because of its lack of data.
“I think [these] acquisition[s] could potentially help Apple close that gap, and make Siri much more useful as a holistic assistant versus simply a voice dictation or speech to text tool," Sterling said.
Apple has been working to improve Siri, which has been known to scramble plenty of words. The version of Apple’s mobile operating system that debuted in September, iOS 9, promised to make iOS devices more intelligent and proactive with new search and better Siri features without sacrificing user privacy.
“Siri can do more than ever and new proactive assistance helps you get more done before you ask,” said Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering at Apple, in a statement.
As part of iOS 9, Siri features a design overhaul, contextual reminders based on time and location, and new ways to search photos and videos. Search queries deliver more relevant results from more categories, including sports scores and schedules, simple math calculations, weather conditions and stock prices, according to Apple.
Apple acquired Siri in 2010 and rolled it out in 2011. At the time, it was a revolutionary addition to the smartphone world. According to some industry insiders, Apple paid between $150 and $250 million for the mobile virtual personal assistant app.
In April 2014, Apple acquired Novauris Technologies for an undisclosed amount. The team that launched the United Kingdom-based software company worked for the likes of Dragon Systems. Dragon is a popular dictation tool. But Apple is still racing against Microsoft’s Cortana.
Microsoft is billing Cortana as “the world’s first truly personal digital assistant.” A popular “Halo” character inspires its personality but it gets its knowledge from Bing. Microsoft said Cortana gets to know you and works better as time passes because it asks questions based on your behavior and checks in with you before making assumptions. That’s a different market than Apple is going after with Siri, but shows how the voice recognition movement is evolving.