Thursday, November 10, 2011

Amazon quietly acquires Charlotte voice-to-text startup Yap ? Why? Update

The Atlantic reports that "I See Your Siri and Raise You a Yap: Amazon Quietly Snaps up Speech-Recognition Startup"

Information digger Edward Boyhan sent a heads-up on stories about Amazon's apparent acquisition of the Charlotte voice-to-text startup, Yap, as shown by an SEC filing which seems to have been completed in September,  although The Alantic's senior editor Alexis Madrigal reports that no public announcement has been made by either Amazon or Yap.  Igor and Victor, the Jablokov brothers, founded Yap in 2006.

  The Washington Post article, by The Verge, cites Charlotte's CLTBlog, as does the earlier Atlantic story Wednesday morning (10 a.m.).

CLTBlog is the original source, and many subsequent stories are referencing The Atlantic story because that's where the story was first noticed.

As Madrigal points out that although Amazon isn't mentioned by name, "Yap merged with a company called "Dion Acquisition Sub" (Yarmuth Dion Inc.), that "just so happens to be headquartered at 410 Terry Avenue in Seattle, Washington, an building."  This would be Amazon's first small step, Madrigal adds, into voice control, a feature missing from Amazon products.

  Also missing is a microphone in any of the new Kindle devices.  The only microphone available in a Kindle currently lies dormant in the Kindle 3 ( story by Tim Carmody), which is the August 2010 Kindle now sold under the name Kindle Keyboard  (UK: Kindle Keyboard also)  to differentiate it from the Kindle Touch models.

  CLT Blog's Justin Ruckman explains that Yap Voicemail "was a Google-Voice-like transcription app available for iOS and Android" which he used for over a year when it was in private beta -- so he was surprised to receive a notice that the service would be discontinued in a matter of days.  Considering the scope of its intellectual property and the lack of voice-recognition technology in Amazon's Kindles, it seems a smart move for both companies.

  The Washington Post, using The Verge story by Sam Byford adds that Microsoft had previously used the Yap technology for its Talk to Text BlackBerry app.  Is Dion Acquisition Sub Inc a "shell company"?

  There are more details about Yap, the company, in the stories linked above.

The most interesting article is, once again, by Tim Carmody for Wired's Epicenter.  He points out that it's unlikely that Amazon has its eye on competing with Apple's Siri (the much-discussed voice-driven interface for iPhone).

  Reason? Yap isn't very much like Siri -- Yap's specialty is transcriptions while Siri's is artificial intelligence, Carmody notes.
' Apple packages Siri’s core software with third-party search and transcription services to extend its functionality, which leads to some overlap (like voice-based text messaging).
  The heart of Siri, however, is the AI that strips human language for meaningful phrases and transforms them into actionable commands.
  Unless Yap is hiding something deep within its labs that they’ve never shown to anyone, the company doesn’t have anything quite like that. '

  What Yap DOES do though, and "very well," Carmody says, is cloud-based voice transcription:
' i.e., literal, word-for-word rendering of speech into text, at very high volume with very high accuracy but at very low cost.

  It can do this with direct dictation or recorded speech, with something as short as a text message or voicemail or as long as an entire keynote address.  Transcribed speech can then be used for search, commands, or output directly into a document.

  The closer analog to Yap then, isn’t Siri, but Nuance, the company behind Dragon’s collection of voice applications for desktop and mobile, and whose engine powers the speech-to-text component of — you guessed it — Siri. '

See Carmody's full article for his detailed, explained listing of what he sees as Amazon's possible reasons for its interest in Yap technology, arranged from most to least likely.

  These include 1) "licensable patents and other IP";  2) added user interface to aid search in its mobile applications, etc.;  3) a cloud company with matching robust cloud services, high-quality automated voice-to-text transcription;  4) commodity transcription services at competitive pricing for a cloud-computing, supercharged Yap; and  5. An Amazon Android-based smartphone "secretly" in the works  (I don't find this at all unlikely - the Lab126 job ads seem to point to that

I don't find #4 unlikely either.  Anyway, do see Carmody's full article at Wired.

  Update: @tcarmody replied at Twitter that
  'FWIW, I don't think 4) is "unlikely," exactly, just that the Yap acquisition isn't very good evidence for it.
   Notice that a Twitter status tweet now also shows the tweet that prompted a Twitter reply.

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