Chinese companies don’t view Siri in a favorable light, hence the creation of the Speech Industry Alliance of China (SIAC). They are willing to offer an alternative that is supposed to work better with Mandarin and Cantonese. In fact, iOS 6 will include a new version of Siri that understands and speaks Mandarin and Cantonese. It is a threat for Chinese mobile phone manufacturers, carriers and speech recognition software developers and it needs to be addressed.
One of the key points behind that new strategy is that developing speech recognition for multi-tone oriental languages is very hard. Apparently, according to early tests of Mandarin and Cantonese support in iOS 6 beta, it is still lacking and the alliance hopes to take advantage of that.
The 19 companies that are pooling resources for speech recognition include phone manufacturers such as Lenovo and Huawei, state-owned mobile phone carriers that want to diversify their product line to minimize Apple’s bargaining power such as China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom and speech recognition software developer Anhui USTC iFlytek.
iFlytek is already the leading provider of Chinese speech recognition technology with a market share of around 70 percent. For example, they currently sell text-to-speech software for business use.
But the real question is whether it is widely used in smartphones at the moment. Huawei has already launched smartphones with a deep integration of iFlytek Voice Input technology but it is still the very beginning of that initiative.
iFlytek Voice Input is available as a standalone app on Google Play as well. It is a highly rated app with a 4.6 average rating and it has been downloaded between 100,000 and 500,000 times according to Google.
With the Speech Industry Alliance of China, carriers could pre-install iFlytek Voice Input on Android devices and manufacturers could integrate it in their flavor of Android. Moreover, Shanghai-based voice assistant developer Zhizhen Network Technology has sued Apple over patent infringement. While the likely outcome is a multimillion-dollar compensation as in previous cases, it reminds us that if Chinese companies sue Apple, the court will tend to side with a Chinese company.
Yet, when it comes to speech recognition, many developers and manufacturers claimed to have developed similar solutions before Apple. The marketing power of Apple was superior and made speech recognition popular. Those Chinese companies are right to believe that it takes an alliance to take over Siri and offer a compelling alternative.