Enterprise

Amazon Gets Into Voice Recognition, Buys Ivona Software To Compete Against Apple’s Siri

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Amazon today announced that it is acquiring Ivona Software, a Polish-based specialist in voice technologies that competes with Nuance and is already used in the Kindle Fire for services covering text-to-speech, voice commands and “Explore by Touch.” The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The move is significant for a couple of reasons. First, it shows that Amazon is looking to enhance its features and functionality on its devices, moving ever further away from pared-down, cheaper hardware to compete better against products like the iPad and higher-spec tablets from the likes of Samsung.

Second, it paves the way for Amazon to do more in hardware beyond tablets. Specifically, adding voice services points further to a mobile handset/smartphone, as many have suspected Amazon would eventually launch. No comment on a phone specifically in today’s statements, but an intentionally vague reference to future products that is sure to send imaginations racing:

“IVONA’s exceptional text-to-speech technology leads the industry in natural voice quality, accuracy and ease of use. IVONA is already instrumental in helping us deliver excellent accessibility features on Kindle Fire, including Text-to-Speech, Voice Guide and Explore by Touch,” said Dave Limp, Vice President, Amazon Kindle, in a statement. “The IVONA team shares our passion for innovation and customer obsession, and we look forward to building great products to deliver world-class voice solutions to customers around the world.”

Although Amazon’s use of voice recognition today isn’t as highlighted and center-stage as Siri is in Apple’s iOS, it’s nevertheless an important part of the company’s business proposition, since a cornerstone of Amazon’s content is based in reading and “reading” in different formats, like audiobooks. Here is what one of the voice features looks like currently on the Kindle Fire:

amazon voice feature

Ivona’s products, the company says, are already available for 44 voices in 17 languages “and more in development”, which points to how Amazon can use the technology to underpin its international ambitions. Over the last year, the company has been ramping up products and Kindle stores for countries outside of the U.S., including finally launching the Kindle Fire tablets internationally.

What’s still unclear is how Ivona’s existing business will develop. We’re contacting Ivona to ask the question and will update as we learn more, but currently, Ivona works with other organizations and businesses, to provide voice recognition, and it has also made a big push on growing its developer ecosystem. Unless Amazon decides to take Ivona in-house completely, and use its tech exclusively in its own products, this presents a couple of opportunities.

It could see Amazon offering out the speech recognition capability in the form of an API, something that Apple has yet to do with Siri, for developers to use in their apps for the Kindle Fire and other platforms. (Amazon is doing a lot to court developers and continues to extend the ways in which to link them into its own platform.)

Ivona could potentially also get used by Amazon in its wider suite of enterprise, cloud-based services, which also includes hosting and other data management via Amazon Web Services.

Update: An Amazon spokesperson had this to say, confirming that Ivona will continue to work with third parties, meaning that this provides another bridge out for Amazon both to enterprise cloud services as well as to developers, specifically in the area of voice recognition: “Yes – IVONA will continue to provide voice solutions for our Kindle Fire tablets (text-to-speech, voice guide, explore-by-touch) and also continue to distribute their products and services to developers, businesses and customers around the world.”

Release below.

SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Jan. 24, 2013– (NASDAQ:AMZN)—Amazon.com, Inc. today announced that it has acquired leading text-to-speech technology company IVONA Software. IVONA delivers world-class technologies that power the “Text-to-Speech,” “Voice Guide” and “Explore by Touch” features on Kindle Fire tablets. Additionally, IVONA delivers text-to-speech products and services for thousands of developers, businesses and customers around the world.

“IVONA’s exceptional text-to-speech technology leads the industry in natural voice quality, accuracy and ease of use. IVONA is already instrumental in helping us deliver excellent accessibility features on Kindle Fire, including Text-to-Speech, Voice Guide and Explore by Touch,” said Dave Limp, Vice President, Amazon Kindle, in a statement. “The IVONA team shares our passion for innovation and customer obsession, and we look forward to building great products to deliver world-class voice solutions to customers around the world.”

“For more than ten years, the IVONA team has been focused on creating innovative text-to-speech technologies,” said Lukasz Osowski, CEO and co-founder of IVONA. “We are all thrilled that Amazon is supporting our growth so that we can continue to innovate and deliver exceptional voice and language support for our customers.”

IVONA offers voice and language portfolios with 44 voices in 17 languages and more in development.

About Amazon.com

Amazon.com, Inc., a Fortune 500 company based in Seattle, opened on the World Wide Web in July 1995 and today offers Earth’s Biggest Selection. Amazon.com, Inc. seeks to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices. Amazon.com and other sellers offer millions of unique new, refurbished and used items in categories such as Books; Movies, Music & Games; Digital Downloads; Electronics & Computers; Home & Garden; Toys, Kids & Baby; Grocery; Apparel, Shoes & Jewelry; Health & Beauty; Sports & Outdoors; and Tools, Auto & Industrial. Amazon Web Services provides Amazon’s developer customers with access to in-the-cloud infrastructure services based on Amazon’s own back-end technology platform, which developers can use to enable virtually any type of business. Kindle Paperwhite is the most-advanced e-reader ever constructed with 62% more pixels and 25% increased contrast, a patented built-in front light for reading in all lighting conditions, extra-long battery life, and a thin and light design. The new latest generation Kindle, the lightest and smallest Kindle, now features new, improved fonts and faster page turns. Kindle Fire HD features a stunning custom high-definition display, exclusive Dolby audio with dual stereo speakers, high-end, laptop-grade Wi-Fi with dual-band support, dual-antennas and MIMO for faster streaming and downloads, enough storage for HD content, and the latest generation processor and graphics engine—and it is available in two display sizes—7” and 8.9”. The large-screen Kindle Fire HD is also available with 4G wireless, and comes with a groundbreaking $49.99 introductory 4G LTE data package. The all-new Kindle Fire features a 20% faster processor, 40% faster performance, twice the memory, and longer battery life.

Amazon and its affiliates operate websites, including www.amazon.com, www.amazon.co.uk, www.amazon.de, www.amazon.co.jp, www.amazon.fr, www.amazon.ca, www.amazon.cn, www.amazon.it, and www.amazon.es. As used herein, “Amazon.com,” “we,” “our” and similar terms include Amazon.com, Inc., and its subsidiaries, unless the context indicates otherwise.

About IVONA Software

IVONA Software develops award-winning text-to-speech technology for use in the voice user interfaces on mobile devices, computers, communication systems and services. Its text-to-speech products have been recognized as industry leading in terms of natural voice quality, accuracy and ease of use. Today, IVONA offers one of the fastest growing voice and language portfolios with 44 voices in 17 languages and more in development. The IVONA suite includes a wide range of text-to-speech solutions for consumers, developers who want to incorporate text-to-speech into their user interfaces, and business customers from a variety of industries, including accessibility, public announcement/transportation, telecommunications, e-learning and more. Additionally, in support of its long-standing commitment to accessibility, IVONA works closely with the largest organizations supporting blind and visually impaired people all over the world, including the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the DAISY Consortium. For more information on the IVONA Text-to-Speech visit www.ivona.com.

Forward-Looking Statements

This announcement contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Actual results may differ significantly from management’s expectations. These forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that include, among others, risks related to competition, management of growth, new products, services and technologies, potential fluctuations in operating results, international expansion, outcomes of legal proceedings and claims, fulfillment center optimization, seasonality, commercial agreements, acquisitions and strategic transactions, foreign exchange rates, system interruption, inventory, government regulation and taxation, payments and fraud. More information about factors that potentially could affect Amazon.com’s financial results is included in Amazon.com’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including its most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K and subsequent filings.

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