In May, Nuance CEO Paul Ricci confirmed in an interview with Walt Mossberg that their technology was in fact behind Apple's Siri (See the 6:28 mark of this video interview). Whether that admission violated their contract with Apple isn't known. But what we can confirm, is that Apple now has a new advanced voice recognition team set up in Boston. Whether this is a move to break away from their reliance on Nuance in the future is unknown at this time.
Evidently there's a wealth of voice recognition expertise in Massachusetts. Nuance is headquartered in Burlington Massachusetts and MIT has an advanced program covering speech interfaces headed by research scientist Jim Glass who admits he's in the dark as to what Apple's new voice recognition team is up to. However, it's evident by the make-up of Apple's new team leadership that being in Boston is where Apple has to be in order to recruit the best talent for this project successfully.
The Xconomy, who broke the news on this story, lists Gunner Evermann and Larry Gillick as two of the leaders of Apple's team. Both originally came from another Massachusetts company by the name of VoiceSignal who was acquired by Nuance in 2007. The engineers at VoiceSignal-Nuance had actually developed VoiceSignal and VSearch for the iPhone back in 2008. In that context it makes sense why Apple would have sought to hire these engineers to set up Apple's new voice recognition team in Boston. Below are two of the original videos from the 2008 VoiceSignal team showing their work on the iPhone.
In 2012, Vlad Sejnoha, chief technology officer of Nuance Communications was quoted in the MIT Technology Review online magazine as saying that he thought that speech recognition was really going to upend the current computer interface.
The MIT Technology Review article also touched on Nuance's project called Dragon TV which is a voice based interface for future televisions. The article hints that this could have been what Steve Jobs may have been referring to when he told Walter Issacson that he "finally solved" the TV interface.
The article also revealed that Nuance was working with voice recognition for the car back in 2012 which happens to be when Scott Forstall first introduced Apple's "iOS for the Car" project. Apple's project has already been recognized as a real threat to those in the infotainment industry.
Yet the earlier statement from Vlad Sejnoha strikes a chord. It's really a motivator for Apple to move as quickly as they can to control the technology that is going to play such a huge role in future interfaces.
The Mac OS was a ground breaker with the first Macintosh and iOS was a breakthrough OS for the iDevice revolution. They were both distinct Apple innovations that defined Apple and their products. The voice interface is going to be too important going forward for Apple to remain reliant on Nuance who is also working with Google and other industry players.
Apple has to find a way to redefine the voice interface so that they can create a unique Apple flavor and air of distinction so that future services can be differentiated from those coming from Google and Samsung.
We know that Samsung is freaking out regarding iOS for the Car. After we reported on iOS for the car being the next battlefield in June, Korea's ETNews had to come out with a "Me Too report" in July to say that Samsung will have an in-vehicle product too, based on the Tizen OS. Their article even went so far as to claim that Apple's iOS for the car was based on the Tizen OS. Was that a Freudian slip or what?
Yet at the end of the day, the big news is that Apple has a serious new voice recognition team hidden away in Boston designed to accelerate Apple's Siri for future projects be they in the form of Apple TV, iOS for the Car, iTunes on a Mac or Siri for a future wearable computer.
The positive news leak from Boston today was likely one that Apple quietly engineered to confirm that innovation is alive and well at Apple. But however it came to be, it's nothing but good news for a nice summer Friday.
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