Amazon has quietly made what could prove to be a significant move by acquiring a new company focused on text-to-speech technology, as it seeks to overthrow the market domination of Apple.
Presently, Apple uses the Siri system for its iOS, which helps to run iPhones and iPad devices. Siri, a company that developed a compelling voice-operated personal assistant app for the iPhone, was acquired by Apple in 2010. Following the acquisition the US-based technology giant promptly cancelled all plans for non-Apple text-to-speech platforms, continuing a strategy which has helped it become the dominant player in the smartphone industry.
Employing a similar approach, Amazon has just announced the acquisition of Yap, a small speech recognition start-up firm launched in 2006, to help it challenge Apple in the text-to-speech market.
Some industry experts see Yap as a competitive move targeted at usurping Apple and Google. And while Amazon has remained tight-lipped on its exact intensions for Yap, it is widely speculated that Yap will be employed to provide speech recognition as an alternative input mode to typing on Kindle e-reader devices.
Amazon has announced that the first Kindle Fire will not launch with a microphone. However, Kindle e-readers have had them since 2010. And as a consequence of the acquisition, consumers may soon be able to change pages on their Kindle without moving their fingertips. It has even been speculated that readers will be able to make voice annotations in the margins of the book.
Thus far, speech recognition has been seen merely as an alternative input mode. Indeed, research has suggested that consumers still prefer to work in a more traditional way.
Google, for example, has said that while it sees a reasonable amount of voice searches on mobile, that figure is outweighed by the number of mobile searches people conduct by typing. Despite this, Google announced in June it has witnessed a six-fold growth in spoken inputs over the course of 12 months. Over the summer, in fact, Google also launched Google Voice Search on the desktop. Using the technology, consumers are able to tell the computer what they'd like to search for in its search engine.
It's apparent that there is no immediate desire among consumers to see voice recognition technologies supersede more traditional ways of working. However, voice input is becoming increasingly popular and so most of the world's leading technology firms - including Google, Apple and now Amazon - are positioning themselves to cope with the predicted surge in consumer demand. By virtue of its acquisition of Yap, Amazon is prepared to take on its rivals in this potentially lucrative sector.