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M-Pulse ANALYSIS Mobile Voice: Nuance Talks Multi-Screen, Multi-Tasking

Topic: Media, Search | Author: Peggy Anne Salz | Date: February 27, 2012

nuance mobileAt m-pulse we wrap up a month dedicated to mobile voice technology and transformation with a look at Nuance, a company aggressively leveraging its long heritage in speech recognition to enable a range of new experiences and – ultimately – a new voice search experience (and ecosystem). Our guest is Kenn Harper, Nuance Mobile Director of Product Management.

In other segments we discuss some new numbers from Xyologic, a company tracking app downloads to provide us a more European perspective on the rise of Android and the increasing importance of local content and context. And this time my co-host Rob Woodbridge raises his goblet of rock to an innovation (and a mad genius) that redefines what we mean by ‘awesome.’ (Words alone don’t do it justice, so you’ll have to tune into m-pulse and check out the video teaser Rob has inserted into this week’s vodcast.)

Nuance goes for deeper integration

Our series of interviews has talked about the evolution of mobile voice, a technology that has been around for decades and catapulted to the top of our radar by Apple’s Siri, the smart assistant that cleverly leverages speech recognition and natural language understanding. It’s also no secret that the technology at the core was licensed from Nuance.

However, Kenn stresses that Nuance itself is thinking far beyond the technology. It is focused on the impact voice will have when it is “the ubiquitous technology across all the touch points in our lives.” Against this backdrop, Siri is just a starting point. The real action kicks in when “we’re able to take [speech] technology and greatly simplify how people use a mobile phone, a tablet, a TV and their car.”

But the real game changer comes when speech simplifies how we interact with the Web. As Kenn puts it: “People are looking for a piece of information on the go; they don’t want to browse the Web. And that’s how we’ve used natural language understanding to greatly reduce the distance between what someone wants to find [on the Web] and the end result.”

Building the pervasive ecosystem

Apple has clearly hit the mark with its approach to mobile voice on a mobile phone (in this case the iPhone 4S). But Kenn argues that the real opportunity is around combining  voice, gesture and touch – and more.

To get there from here there has to deep integration and collaboration, which is why Nuance “integrates some of its core capabilities in collaboration with handset manufacturer customers” and has stepped up activities in its NDEV developer community. By way of background, Nuance launched NDEV last year, providing developers across North America, Europe, Asia and Australia tools and support to develop and bring-to-market innovative Dragon-powered apps.

In practice, Nuance “exposes its dictation technology, its search technology and its text-to-speech technology so that developers can take advantage of [integrating] speech inside their own applications.” According to Kenn, the program is just part of Nuance Mobile’s strategy to “create a truly pervasive ecosystem” that in turn creates the experiences (not just services) that enable us to choose when and how we want to use voice. “Across our platform and application efforts we want to collect a lot of data so we can make these systems more intelligent.”

Precision search & much more

As I have written in a number of reports and commentaries, any approach to mobile search that is a retrofit of Web search we know from the PC (universal and keyword-based) is fatally flawed. In recognition of this Nuance is sharply (and correctly) focused on increasing the precision, accuracy and transparency of mobile search powered by speech recognition and natural language understanding.

The one to watch is Dragon Go!, the Nuance app that leverages both speech recognition and natural language understanding to get us information on the move. However, it’s the notion of a carousel that heralds a new phase in mobile search innovation and monetization.

The Dragon Carousel allows people to find and experience mobile content via destinations and sources dedicated to providing just that. This, Nuance remarks in this press release, is very different from search services that “provide searchers a list of preferential properties owned and controlled by one company.” The result is “open direct access to streamed movies and shows, more music, more social networks, and the ability to ask a question and quickly have it answered.”

To this end the Dragon Go! App gives direct access to relevant results from nearly 200 content providers, including AccuWeather, Bing, ESPN, Facebook, Fandango, iTunes, Last.fm, LiveNation, Milo.com, OpenTable, Pandora internet radio, Rotten Tomatoes, Twitter, Wikipedia, Yelp, YouTube, Yahoo! The community of content destinations has recently expanded to include Spotify, Wolfram|Alpha, Ask.com, Dictionary.com and Google+.

If you want to see this service in action, then check out the video below.

But it’s not just about delivering a great search experience; it’s also about increasing transparency of the experience.  In his interview Kenn pointed out why we – empowered consumers – increasingly demand search that presents us with valuable, personal and relevant results, not pages that are optimized for the search engine in question.

Leveraging intent

Following the m-pulse segment Kenn and I caught up again to deep-dive into the Dragon Carousel and the model it represents.

In theory, it’s easy to imagine how a company could use the carousel to effectively confine us to the community of partners/destinations. But Nuance’s strategy if not to be a gatekeeper. It’s focused on taking the heavy-lifting out of finding what we want and performing the tasks that will get us there.

As Kenn puts it:  It’s not about limiting our access to the wider Internet; it’s about “leveraging our intent” to determine which destination to display in the Dragon Carousel, or if the best content/answer of all isn’t simply the content we have stored on the device (in our personal stockpile of music, images, contacts and other digital stuff). If it’s neither then we can always access the wider Web.

What are the plans to monetize this new kind of precision mobile search? Surely more hits than misses would mean more revenues to someone in this emerging business ecosystem…

Kenn tells me Nuance Mobile is taking its time to get the experience right. “Throwing up ads is a bad experience,” so online display advertising is not the blueprint that Nuance wants to follow.

My take:

Nuance has its own IP and its own strategy. It will be a while before we know just how the company plans to monetize its precision search (enabled by a comprehensive carousel of content sites). But the point is: Nuance has a model it can monetize because the Dragon Go! experience is built from the ground up to provide us convenience and choice. And Nuance isn’t only thinking voice. The recent acquisition of Swype – the technology allows users to trace their words out by “swyping” their fingers between the letters on a keyboard instead of typing – is a huge step in a much wider strategy that could move search to a new level. Connect the dots, and Nuance is building the capabilities mix to deliver us a more comprehensive experience and – more important — a  choice of when we want to use voice and when we would rather use another input (such as gesture, touch or swype).

Check out Episode #7 of m-pulse here.

Next week we kick off a month-long look at app development, beginning with the results of a milestone cross-platform tools survey/report from VisionMobile. The report, slated to be released this week, is full of insights and surprises, so check out untetherTV for the inside story – and I’ll provide additional analysis in a companion post here at MobileGroove.

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