Talking tech since 2003

With Apple’s “Siri” and Google’s “Google Now” bringing voice recognition and text-to-speech capabilities to iOS and Android devices, Amazon has been looking for its own alternative for its Kindle tablets. That search will end today, as Amazon buys IVONA Software, a Polish voice technologies company that already provides text-to-speech and voice command support for the Kindle Fire. Acquiring IVONA helps Amazon bring all of that technology in-house, where it can continue to develop it specifically for its forked version of the Android operating system.

Speech technologies are really heating up in the smartphone and tablet space, and Amazon is wise to snatch up a company that can help it grab a piece of that pie. As far as voice recognition goes, Siri really kicked things off when it was unveiled with the launch of the iPhone 4S, though its capabilities are extremely limited. Google Now seems to do a better job at answering your questions and can understand natural language a bit better, but it still feels like a work in progress rather than a finished product. And Google Now doesn’t offer the integration with certain apps that Siri provides — i.e. you can’t book a table at a restaurant or update your Facebook status using Google’s voice recognition product. At least, not at the moment.

Amazon has a chance for real success on this front if it can offer a better experience in the areas that Apple’s and Google’s efforts have fallen short. As a tablet user, I’d love a more robust API for voice technologies on a mobile platform so that third-party apps can easily hook themselves in and start providing valuable services. Typing is a better experience on a tablet than it is on a smartphone, but there are still some use cases where activating voice recognition would be more beneficial. Of course, we won’t reach voice recognition nirvana until such technologies get much better at understanding what you say — I regularly have problems with both Siri and Google Now misunderstanding my queries, and neither product is adept at recognizing unusual words or names. With Amazon’s purchase of IVONA, perhaps it can further develop and improve voice recognition and create a real viable competitor to Siri and Google Now.

This is a very interesting, and smart, acquisition by Amazon. As I stated earlier, voice technologies are hot and, since Apple and Google are both in the game, Amazon has to be, too. It’ll be something to keep an eye on over the next couple months, as Amazon is likely planning its updates to the Kindle Fire line of tablets. And, who knows… maybe this is a small sign that Amazon is considering a smartphone? It would be a shame to keep all that voice recognition goodness limited to tablets.

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