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Yap Buy Could Give Amazon More Than Just a Siri Rival

By Rob Spiegel E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
Nov 10, 2011 12:24 PM PT

Amazon has purchased Yap, a voice recognition startup, according to an SEC filing. The move added to speculation that Amazon is preparing a voice-command service similar to Apple's Siri or Google Android's Voice Actions.

Yap Buy Could Give Amazon More Than Just a Siri Rival

The transaction was apparently completed in September, but a public statement has not been made by either company. Yap merged with a company called Dion Acquisition Sub, which shares the same address as Amazon's building. Yap previously produced a voicemail application for smartphones that was discontinued in October.

The Yap acquisition could help Amazon integrate voice controls and speech recognition services into its online shopping and Kindle devices. Kindle readers do not sport microphones, and the Kindle Fire is not expected to launch with a mic, so Yap could fit into Amazon's plans for the future. Microsoft previously tapped Yap's technology for a BlackBerry app.

Yap's specialty is high-volume, cloud-based voice transcription, a literal rendering of voice to text.

Amazon did not respond to the E-Commerce Times' request for comments by press time.

Voice to Buy Merchandise

Tools from Yap could be used to make purchases easier for Amazon customers. This is especially true with mobile devices, where it's often quicker to speak than it is to type.

"Voice recognition can make the difference between a user who decides to postpone the purchase and one who completes a transaction through voice," Azita Arvani, principal of Arvani Group told the E-Commerce Times. Voice interfaces, she noted, can also help with searching for merchandise on Amazon.

Arvani doesn't see Amazon's move as head-to-head competition against Apple's Siri, since Siri offers more than voice recognition.

"However, the acquisition could be a defensive play against patent wars, should that arise later down the line," said Arvani.

Solid Acquisition Nibbles at Apple

Yap may fill a hole in the Kindle Fire's collection of tools. The Fire, scheduled for a Nov. 15 release, needs a wide range of functionality as soon as possible.

"This is a no-brainer for Amazon," Steven Savage, technology project manager and Geek 2.0 blogger, told the E-Commerce Times. "Voice recognition software is the norm for a lot of phones and devices anyway. This just gives Amazon its own technology. Amazon also gets some good software and some good people."

Amazon is taking a deliberately minimal, focused and bounded approach to its devices, Savage added, and the Yap acquisition fits that approach. However, he is neutral on whether this is a strong move for Amazon.

"It's a sensible move," said Savage. "It doesn't seem to be overly brilliant or a bad idea. I see this as a good, solid acquisition."

Voice Too Tough to Build

Amazon's purchase of Yap comes at a time when Amazon has it hands full with the launch of Kindle Fire. Yet it might be an important enough move that it had to come when the poker was hot.

"I am surprised that Amazon moved so quickly to acquire Yap," Michael Morgan, senior analyst of mobile devices for ABI Research, told the E-Commerce Times. "However, considering how few companies are out there with valuable voice recognition IP, it is important for those who want to get into the game to buy in early."

Morgan noted that if Amazon wants voice-recognition tools, it's best to acquire rather than build the technology.

"The voice recognition world is a small world, so there isn't a lot of IP. You can go through the gargantuan effort of creating voice recognition and you'll be there by 2025. Acquisition is a nice way to serve this up," he said.

Wide Uses for Voice Recognition

Yap gives Amazon a set of tools that can enhance the buying experience. The move also shows that Amazon is serious about building its mobile device capabilities.

"This is an important step for Amazon, since it will help the online retailer develop a well-rounded mobile device input-and-control strategy," Neil Shah, analyst for wireless devices strategies at Strategy Analytics, told the E-Commerce Times. "This will help Amazon provide product buying, selling, consuming and reviewing experiences."

Voice recognition and control (VRC), Shah added, can produce great synergy with the cloud expertise Amazon possesses.

"The key Amazon VRC use-cases will range from e-reading, product search, buying, reviewing to even cloud-based web search," said Shah. "Moreover, VRC can be used to enhance the e-reader experience from dictation, dictionary and highlighting to book searches to boost the bookstore experience."


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