Nuance, the company that powers a large number of tools that use voice recognition (including Apple’s Siri) launched its own Siri-like voice-powered “virtual assistant” today that developers can add to their mobile apps. The Nuance Interactive Natural Assistant (Nina) uses the company’s speech recognition technologies and combines them with voice biometrics and an understanding of natural language and the user’s intent to “deliver an interactive user experience that not only understands what is said, but also can identify who is saying it.” At its core, Nina is something akin to a “Siri for apps” and iPhone and Android developers can now start integrating it into their own apps.
The service consists of three different parts: the Nina Virtual Assistant Persona, an SDK and the Nina Virtual Assistant Cloud that lives on Nuance’s servers and which powers most of the service’s features. Nina currently understands US, UK and Australian English and Nuance promises to launch support for additional languages later this year.
Instead of having to find their ways through lots of menus, Nina aims to help users perform a task with just a few spoken sentences and without the need to learn an app’s specific vocabulary.
Nuance argues that “the time is now for virtual assistants” and that “the proliferation of voice-enabled assistants is making consumers comfortable asking a device, rather than a person, for information in a very intelligent, conversational way.” While Nuance never quite comes out and says so, the reason why users now feel more comfortable with using these kinds of voice-enabled tools is obviously the success of Apple’s Siri.
Besides the virtual assistant features that aim to make using mobile apps easier and faster, Nina also includes support for Nuance’s VocalPassword tool. VocalPassword uses biometrics to authenticate a user without the need for passwords or PINs. Users simply speak a passphrase and the app will recognize the user.
Nuance’s first partner for this service is the USAA financial services group. The two companies are launching a pilot of USAA’s mobile app with Nina this month and plan to launch a Nina-powered app for all USAA members early next year.
It’s hard to say how well this service really works without testing it in the real world. We’ll keep an eye out for Nina-powered apps, though, and will report back once we get a chance to spend some quality time with this new service.