Nuance has acquired Vlingo in a combination of two of the most prominent independent speech companies left, as mobile companies continue to eye sophisticated speech-recognition software as an important input method.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the acquisition will bring together the company behind the PC-based Dragon speech-recognition software and Vlingo, which has been increasing dubbed “the Siri of Android,” in reference to the speech-driven personal assistant found in Apple’s new iPhone 4S. Vlingo has been hitting back at comparisons to Siri on its corporate blog, but from a very basic standpoint the services are similar: both allow you to use voice commands to look up information and operate the core parts of a smartphone.
Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) acquired Siri a year and a half ago for its speech expertise, and this is also an area that Google (NSDQ: GOOG) has spent years and millions in hopes of gaining an edge. Speech technology has been promised for years by computer scientists as a universal input system that nearly anyone can understand, but the user experience is often still a work in progress as software can struggle to interpret slang, dialects, and background noise.
It sounds like Nuance wants to build an answer to Siri, the centerpiece of Apple’s marketing campaign for the iPhone 4S. While Siri uses some of Nuance’s technology at the heart of the software, Siri co-founder Norman Winarsky told 9to5Mac.com that the Nuance technology is really just a small part of the overall Siri experience.
Notably, Nuance and Vlingo have tussled for years over patents, which means the combined entity will likely possess a strong portfolio in this patent-mad age of the mobile industry.