Nuance's Nina Challenges Siri, and She Means Business
Aug 7, 2012 9:42 AM PT
There is a new natural-language, speech-based virtual assistant in town: Nuance on Monday introduced Nina to rival Apple's Siri.
Nina can be used by smartphone application developers -- or any other type of user who would like to deploy the technology's mix of speech recognition, text-to-speech and voice biometric technology, for that matter. Nuance is offering Nina as a hosted, cloud-based service.
At first blush, Nina and Siri have a lot in common, starting with the voice itself. However there are significant differences between the two.
Nina utilizes a biometric marker -- voice recognition -- to identify users, which should make the service enticing for banks and insurance companies, for example.
In fact, USAA, the financial services provider that serves members of the U.S. military, veterans and their families, is using Nina in its mobile app. A pilot is planned for launch this month, and it will be generally available to all USAA members early next year.
Build Your Own Nina
Nina also comes with software development kit and a set of APIs for companies to allow customization, which also sets it apart from Siri. Using the SDK, companies can build voice capabilities into iOS or Android. The available source code lets users create a virtual rep who, among other activities, can appear to be awake, asleep, listening, processing, or answering a request.
The Nina Virtual Assistant SDK consists of three components, including binary APIs that provide access to the speech recognition, text to speech and natural language understanding; source APIs that provide mobile app developers with access to customize the persona; and source code of Nina Virtual Assistant apps and functions. These, such as the Nina Banking Assistant, offer templates and tasks for store location, bill pay, account information and other banking-related queries.
Nina is built on Nuance's Voice Assistant Cloud, which means it requires a network connection to work.
Other commonalities between between Nina and Siri besides their similar voices include the fact that both are delivered as personable virtual assistants who can answer any kind of question, no matter how off-topic.
Also, while the voice being demoed currently sounds a lot like Siri, there will eventually be 40 voices from which to choose, as well as the ability to customize a voice for a company's own persona, the company said.
Nuance did not respond to our request for further details.
No Basis for Comparison
Comparisons of Nina and Siri don't mean much, as both are works in progress, Laura DiDio, principal of ITIC, told TechNewsWorld. "Speech recognition has been around for a long time and been evolving all the while."
Nina reportedly is a bit buggy, she noted.
Yet Nina seems to be much closer to the type of computer voice persona that has been portrayed in films and commercials, DioDio continued, thanks to the voice biometrics incorporation into natural language understanding.
"What impresses me the most is the USAA pilot program," she said. "It remains to be seen how many third-party developers are going to jump into the pool with this. I would imagine Nuance will need several large customer wins for it to make significant traction, or at least overtake Siri."
That won't be easy. Besides the brand recognition that Siri has, Apple also has the advantage of an enormous, very broad development community, observed DiDio.
Still, Apple will certainly be looking at the advantages Nina has over its own product and likely work to match it, she said -- "and if Nina really starts to take off, I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see them acquired."
Partnership agreements are likely in the cards as well, DiDio speculated.
Nina is almost certain to give Siri serious competition -- especially in the business space, Charles King, principal with Pund-It, told TechNewsWorld.
"For starters, Nuance has an enormous amount of experience in this space and is dedicated to voice recognition. Its earlier products are widely viewed as state of the art," he pointed out.
Also, Siri is seen more as a consumer plaything, while Nuance is quite obviously going after the business market with such features as voice biometrics, noted King.
"I think Nina will prove to be very valuable to business users and third-party service providers," he concluded.