SoundHound Challenges Siri With New Hound Voice Search App And Developer Platform

Most of you know about SoundHound, right? It’s a popular music recognition app that never quite captured the public imagination the way Shazam did.

Well, according to founder and CEO Keyvan Mohajer said there’s a lot more to it — in fact, he described the SoundHound story as “one of the best-kept secrets in Silicon Valley.”

The music app, he said, was always meant to be the first step toward a much bigger vision. Behind the scenes, the company has been building speech recognition and natural language processing technology, allowing it to understand a wide range of human questions and commands.

Put another way, SoundHound has been trying to build a smarter version of Siri (or at least pursuing the bigger vision that Siri had before it was acquired by Apple). And today it’s launching its voice search app Hound in private beta on Android. The company says the app’s initial strong points include navigation, local search, weather, stocks, hotels, time zones, geography, news, photo and video search, mortgage calculation, currency conversion and flight status.

The company is also launching its Houndify platform that it says will allow developers to add a voice interface to any app. The ultimate plan, Mohajer said, is not just to compete with voice services like Siri and search platforms like Google, but also to replace the default “touch and tap” interface for many uses.

To show off the technology, Mohajer performed a number of searches in rapid succession. One thing that became clear was that the questions can get awfully complicated: “When is the sun going to rise two days before Christmas of 2021 in Tokyo, Japan?” and “What is the population of the capital of the country where the Space Needle is located?”

He also pointed out that queries can build on each other, for example asking for the population of Japan, then asking, “What about China?” Or following a question about the area of China with “How much is that in square kilometers?”

Also impressive: There was no noticeable lag between the queries and the answers. Mohajer said that’s because SoundHound has combined the speech recognition and natural language processing into one engine, rather than treating them as separate tasks, one performed after the other.

And the Hound app plugs into outside services. Its launch partners include Expedia, allowing Hound users to search for and book hotels with voice commands.

SoundHound, by the way, was founded all the way back in 2005. Ten years seems like an awfully long time to put off your real goals, but Mohajer said the company needed that time to build the core technology — by launching the music recognition app first, SoundHound could fund further development.

A decade also seems like a long time to keep something like this secret. Mohajer said he’s always been “very open” about the plan with investors and employees: “That’s one of the reasons our investors invested in us and our team joined us.”

An iOS app is also in the works. In the meantime, you can download the Android version and request and invite here.