Nuance has just announced Nina, a new virtual customer service assistant SDK (software developers kit) for iOS and Android. Nuance, which is widely believed to power Apple's Siri voice recognition, is aiming the SDK at iPhone and iPad developers who want to quickly and easily add voice assistance to their App Store apps. And while Siri understands what you're saying and the context in which you're saying it,Nuance claims Nina uses voice biometrics to understand just who exactly is doing the talking. Robert Weideman, executive vice president and general manager of the Nuance Enterprise Division, said in their press release:
Nina is a watershed innovation for the automated customer service industry, not only because it brings the virtual assistant directly into an app, but because it raises the bar through its level of interactive dialog and language understanding. Nina provides our customers a major competitive differentiator by enabling more successful self-service through their mobile apps. We are especially pleased to further our partnership with USAA, a company known for its innovation and approach to delivering a premier mobile customer service experience to its members.
USAA, a financial services company with a US military focus, is piloting the system this August and intends to fully roll it out early next year.
Nina is comprised of a personal assistant persona, the SDK proper, and the backend cloud component. It's is available to developers now in US, UK, and Australian English, with additional languages slated for later this year.
By contrast, Apple does not supply iOS or Mac developers with Siri API in the iOS SDK, which means that, while any app with a keyboard can tap into the system-wide Dictation speech-to-text functionality, they can't hook into Siri's response system. In other words, they can't let Siri see into their app or their service and return their results. No asking your banking app what your balance is, for example. Not with Siri. Which is why developers might find Nina attractive.
Aside from Google, who hired one of Nuance's founders and created their own implementation, Nuance has a virtual lock on voice recognition technology. As devices like the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and Mac move towards more natural language input methods, the ability to understand voice becomes table stakes. Since most companies have to license that from Nuance, and they all end up using the same engine, the competitive advantage shifts to natural language parsing and response -- understanding not only what a person is saying, but what it means and how to act on it.
Apple bought Siri in part because of their excellent, context aware parsing technology. As Nuance provides tools like Nina, and as competitors like Samsung bring similar services like S Voice to market, parsing might likewise become table stakes.
That leaves packaging and services, which is likely why Apple spent so much time on Siri's Pixar-like personality, and on and the services they integrated to support it -- results from Yelp, Yahoo!, Wolfram|Alpha, and other more. And why Apple is adding sports, movies, turn-by-turn navigation, and additional services to Siri as part of iOS 6.
Is voice ID strong enough security for things like accessing banking details, however? "My voice is my passport" has been the stuff of movies for years. But it's also been spoofed in those same movies for years...
Either way, Nina looks to fill a void Apple's either not ready to, or not interested in. Would you want Nina in any of your apps? Which ones?