Apple Inc. (AAPL) acquired automatic speech recognition company Novauris Technologies last year, to improve its digital voice assistant Siri, according to TechCrunch. Although none of the two companies had originally disclosed the deal, TechCrunch confirmed it by calling Novauris's UK office. Novauris CEO Melvyn Hunt said the company was no longer an active entity, and that he now worked for Apple. TechCrunch also contacted Apple but the company did not give a clear answer, saying: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and generally, does not discuss its purpose or plans.” The terms of the acquisition were not disclosed either.
Novauris Technologies was founded in 2002 by some people who had worked in the research and development department of Dragon Systems, a pioneer in voice recognition. Novauris has worked on both server-based and device-based speech functionalities, and with Apple it has been working on Siri.
Siri was introduced by Apple back in 2011. It allows users to rely on voice commands to interact with their iOS devices. While earlier iterations of the assistant were not very responsive, Siri’s functionality has improved significantly over the years.
The news of the acquisition was reported by TechCrunch soon after Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) revealed it was introducing virtual assistant Cortana for Windows Phone 8. The war between the smartphone giants continues across multiple aspects, including improving voice agents so that devices can understand natural commands more efficiently. Google Inc. (GOOG) is also upping its game with Google Now, which is also a voice agent. At Microsoft’s Build Developer Conference, the legacy tech giant’s Operating Systems Vice President, Joe Belfiore, said: “Siri is this anthropomorphized character, but Siri doesn't know you personally.”
Lately, the industry’s focus has started shifting towards smart devices and services that understand and anticipate users’ commands. With the Internet of Things gaining momentum, companies are developing smart products that better understand users’ behavior patterns. Nest Labs, which was recently acquired by Google, produces smart thermostats that learn users’ temperature preferences and anticipates their needs over time. These thermostats can also detect if a user is at home or not. Such devices are fast gaining adoption, as they can be controlled through smartphones and tablets.
Similarly, Microsoft claims Cortana understands the user. If you tell Cortana to remind you of something, it will send a reminder at the appropriate time. If allowed to go through a user’s e-mails and messages, the voice assistant is said to be better able to anticipate a user’s demands.
Amazon Inc. (AMZN) recently introduced its set-top box Fire TV, which allows users to search via voice controls. The microphone has been placed in the box’s remote controller, allowing users to search using their voice instead of typing.
It has gradually become apparent that the focus of new age gadgets will be to bridge the gap between users and their devices, allowing devices to understand their users more accurately.