The Siri Chronicles: Amazon.com Quietly Acquired Yap; The Speech-Enabled Kindle Awaits

According to this document filed in the State of Delaware’s Division of Corporations, Yap, Inc., was quietly merged with a shell corporation owned by Amazon.com on September 8, 2011. While the surviving company retained the Yap Inc. name, the full meaning of the merger was made manifest earlier this week and has been covered well by Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic, Tricia Duryee in All Things D, and many others.

The consensus opinion is that Amazon will be launching its own “Siri Killer.” But that doesn’t fully explain the level of secrecy and subterfuge surrounding the initial acquisition. The dime dropped on Yap on September 8. A few weeks later, those of us who were participating in the beta of Yap’s Voicemail-to-text app (on the iPhone) were informed that the service would be discontinued as of October 20. Then there was something of a radio silence from the folks in Charlotte.

I don’t like to think of any product or service as a “killer.” When we look back on the 4th quarter of 2011, it will be very clear that, whether it succeeds, fails or just goes off line periodically, there is no question that the introduction of Siri on the iPhone 4S irreversibly changed the mobile device and services landscape. In preparation for the holiday buying season, the general public should be thrilled to find a wide variety of smartphones and tablets for sale, each with a price range, feature set and user interface designed to attract new customers – the non-geeks.

In this respect, the ability to understand spoken instructions or dictated messages “reliably-enough” at home, in the office, on noisy streets or public venues like airports is turning out to be table stakes for achieving mass market potential. We’re moving into the Star Trek-like world of talking tablets and. to avoid dependencies on third-party technology providers or “speech specialists” is now part of the Prime Directive.

There is no mention of the Yap acquisition on Amazon.com’s Web site, or in its most recent 10-Q filing at the SEC (dated October 26), nor is there a mention of an acquisition in other SEC filings. Therefore, the price paid must not have been material to Amazon.com’s general financial situation, the transaction may have been largely non-cash in nature, exchange of services or what amounts to a refinancing.

Much is made Yap’s proprietary technology. It’s “Speech Cloud” technology promised highly accurate rendering or transcribing of spoken words. It was a fully-automated solution, like Google Voice, but apparently was achieving high levels of accuracy without the benefit of Google-like scale for its corpus of captured utterances. Opus Research believes that its core speech processing engine is the AT&T Watson Speech Engine, though it hasn’t made that formal announcement and the Yap’s co-founder Igor Jablokov was a veteran of the Pervasive Computing division of IBM, where much of the speech processing technology now licensed to Nuance was developed.

Holiday shoppers will be presented with a wide variety of options and prices for devices that act as mobile assistants. Siri will be running on all manner of iOS-based devices. Nuance is offering Dragon Go! on iOS and Android devices as a very results oriented mobile assistant. Vlingo has been expanding its service offerings and geographic coverage. And now we can look forward to an Amazon.com branded product – most likely part of the Kindle family – that will leverage the Amazon.com e-commerce infrastructure (marketplace and checkout), understand commands and dictation, and probably offer more options for audio books.

Now our Prime Directive is to get more comfortable with all those Speechable Moments to be had.



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