Amazon.com’s acquisition of text-to-speech specialist IVONA marks progress along two separate paths for Conversational Commerce. First, Amazon.com, ostensibly a very pragmatic and savvy marketer of Android-based tablets, recognizes that its customers find value human-like spoken output from their Kindles. It has been the proud owner of Yap, provider of speech recognition and transcription resources, since the fall of 2011.
The e-retailer and cloud-based Web Services outsourcer is poised to be one of the major forces promoting “Voice-in-the-Cloud” services (following a path that Opus Research documented in this report issued in August 2011). In that report, Opus Research noted the symbiotic relationship between cloud service providers, exemplified by Amazon Web Services, Salesforce.com, Rackspace and a number of others, and the providers of classic hosted IVR or speech processing services, like West, Convergys, Contact Solutions, Voxeo and Nuance on Demand. But the real race is among e-commerce specialists with investments in mobile devices and a marketplace for goods and service as well as cloud-based resources to support speech processing, natural language processing, data analytics, CRM and decision support. That’s where Amazon.com joins a peer group that includes Apple and Google which are the companies with the gravitas to define mobile Virtual Personal Assistants.
This brings us to the second path that Conversational Commerce is taking. It is an inexorable movement toward consolidation. This acquisition strongly signals that it is no longer enough to provide “The Best (fill-in-the-blank)” in automated speech processing, be it text-to-speech rendering or speech recognition (or speaker ID for that matter). These are, by definition, mere components of larger systems that solve the everyday needs of individual users. Amazon.com has been working with IVONA to support “accessability” functions, i.e. helping to make books and other information available for the visually impaired. But it is important to note that IVONA has developed 44 voices in 17 languages to suit the needs of customers in public announcement/transportation, telecommunications, e-learning and automotive. The notion of a “voice enabled virtual kindle” which reads written words aloud through a car’s sound system could have tremendous appeal.
Indeed, Lukasz Osowski, CEO and co-founder of IVONA is quoted in a press release saying that the acquisition enables the company to “continue to innovate and deliver exceptional voice and language support for our customers.” With technologies from Yap and IVONA in its DNA, Amazon.com is poised to make the conversational interface to its devices and marketplace more commonplace.
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