Nuance starts new developer program, opens floodgates for more voice apps

Is it game over for other speech tech companies?

Nuance is truly the dominating force in this area and with a partner like Apple, it’s reminiscent of the famed Wintel alliance that still exists today…

Today the company announced its NDEV Mobile program which offers its popular Dragon SDK to multiple platforms: Web-based, iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7. Even the lowest tiered NDEV Silver membership will give a developer plenty of access to Nuance’s popular speech technologies.

And NDEV Silver is free. Yup, get ready to see many, many occurrences of people talking to their phones in the coming months…

See Nuance’s press release:

Burlington, Mass. – September 27, 2011 – Nuance Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ: NUAN) today announced that its Nuance Mobile Developer Program, now NDEV Mobile, features new services that make it easier than ever for developers to voice-enable apps with Nuance’s industry leading speech technology. NDEV Mobile now features three new service tiers – Silver, Gold, and Emerald – that give developers more choice and flexibility in how they bring Dragon-powered innovations to market. The Dragon Mobile SDK made available through the NDEV Mobile program now also supports Windows Phone 7 in addition to Android and iOS, as well as an HTTP web services interface, and, brings developers eight new languages for voice recognition.

NDEV Mobile has already experienced great success since its launch in January, 2011, with more than 4,000 iOS and Android developers signing on to access the Dragon Mobile SDK across the US, Europe, Asia, and Australia. This success has led to demand for even more flexibility and support in bringing voice-enabled applications to market. As such, NDEV Mobile now features three new tiers of service to better meet the diverse needs of the broader mobile developer community:

  • NDEV Silver: NDEV Silver Services provide Android, Windows Phone 7 and iOS app developers with the ability to deploy their apps for free with the accuracy and reliability that only Nuance can provide. Developers will also have free access to Nuance’s connected text-to-speech (TTS) capabilities in over 30 languages, bringing natural sounding read back of text in the cloud. Further, NDEV Silver members get access to Bluetooth use cases and hands-free voice applications.NDEV Silver Services members have access to the world’s highest quality speech recognition technology for both general dictation and search. Additionally, the Dragon Mobile Developer Center provides a centralized resource for speech information and expertise including on-line forums, code samples, and full documentation.
  • NDEV Gold: NDEV Gold Services offer access to SSL data encryption, more deployment flexibility and enhanced support. In addition to iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7, Gold Services members can take advantage of Nuance’s HTTP web service interface, which extends the power of Dragon to any mobile device while giving developers greater control over the user interface.NDEV Gold Services members’ applications can take advantage of SSL for encrypted data transmission, as well as open access to analytics tools that will help them maximize the impact and effectiveness of the voice experience their app delivers. Further, Gold Services members have access to one-on-one Nuance assistance in addition to the NDEV Mobile online community resources.
  • NDEV Emerald: NDEV Emerald Services are designed to meet the unique needs of NDEV Mobile community members looking for a truly differentiated speech experience on their apps. NDEV Emerald members have an array of customization and service options that bring Nuance’s extensive speech expertise and service capabilities to a diverse developer base – ranging from start-ups to wireless carriers, OEMs, and large enterprises. Emerald Services include custom vocabularies and grammars, user experience consulting, speech integration, advanced text-to-speech, high-availability deployment, and unmatched Nuance support – pre and post deployment, including dedicated account management resources.

Available to all NDEV Silver, Gold, and Emerald members, are eight new speech-to-text languages supported by the Dragon Mobile SDK – Canadian French, Americas Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Korean, Taiwan Mandarin, and Cantonese – in addition to already supporting US, Australian and UK English, European Spanish, European French, German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese for dictation and search. Additional languages will continue to be added through the end of the year, offering developers broader geographic expansion and availability of their innovative voice-enabled apps across the globe.

“The success of our NDEV Mobile developer program has proven that our market-leading voice capabilities drive incredible value for developers across a variety of markets,” said Michael Thompson, senior vice president and general manager, Nuance Mobile. “Our new multi-tiered services options deliver developers the options and services they’ve been asking for. It’s never been easier to deliver the power of voice-enabled apps to the market, tailored and customized to meet the needs of each app’s unique consumer base.”

NDEV Mobile has voice-enabled some of the market’s most popular apps, including Siri, Price Check by Amazon, Ask for iPhone, Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, RemoteLink from OnStar, SpeechTrans, Yellow Pages and AirYell from Avantar, iTranslate, Taskmind, SayHi Translate, Vocre, Bon’App, and many others.

 The Dragon Mobile SDK is available for iOS 4.0 (iPhone/iPad/iPod touch), Android 2.1 and higher, Windows Phone 7.1 and via an HTTP web services interface. For more information about the NDEV Silver, Gold, and Emerald Services, please visit the NDEV Mobile developer portal at dragonmobile.nuancemobiledeveloper.com

Dragon has long been a leading speech recognition application on the desktop, used by millions of people around the world. Nuance has launched an array of Dragon applications across a variety of mobile platforms including iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7, and more.

To learn more, visit www.nuancemobilelife.com.

Nuance Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ: NUAN) is a leading provider of voice and language solutions for businesses and consumers around the world.  Its technologies, applications and services make the user experience more compelling by transforming the way people interact with devices and systems. Every day, millions of users and thousands of businesses experience Nuance’s proven applications.  For more information, please visitwww.nuance.com.

Nuance and the Nuance logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Nuance Communications, Inc. or its subsidiaries in the United States of America and/or other countries. All other company names or product names may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

The statements in this press release relating to future plans, events or services, are forward-looking statements which are subject to specific risks and uncertainties. There are a number of factors which could cause actual events or results to differ materially from those indicated in such forward looking statements, including fluctuations in demand for the Nuance products, and the continued development of Nuance products. The reader is warned not to rely on these forward-looking statements without reservation, since these are simply reflections of the current situation. Nuance disclaims any obligation to update any forward-looking statements as a result of developments occurring after the date of this document.

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OpenVBX now works with Tropo

OpenVBX is an open source Web-based business phone system that’s powered by Twilio. It’s just like a lightweight PBX with typical features such as menus, voicemail, messaging, etc. except there’s one catch: it requires Twilio as the cloud telephony provider.

Not cool, right?

That requirement translates to OpenVBX having some limitations such as no international numbers or international SMS, along with some, shall we say, “speech impediments.” The good folks at Disruptive Technologies kindly released OpenVBX 2.0 that incorporates bug fixes, Tropo compatibility and features, and VoiceVault biometrics API.

Or as Chris Matthieu of Voxeo (backers of Tropo) puts it, OpenVBX has been “jailbroken“:

The coders at Disruptive Technologies added full support for the the Tropo API and Phono SIP-based VoIP web phone to the communications layer of the OpenVBX project. Of course, when selecting the Tropo API, users will now get access to all of the more advanced features of the Tropo network: speech recognition and text-to-speech in 24 languages, phone numbers in over 40 countries, international SMS, in/outbound SIP VoIP support, inbound Skype support, multiple phone numbers per callflow script, improved conferencing.

Disruptive Technologies also extended OpenVBX with the VoiceVault API to support Voice Biometrics in password resets. After adding VoiceVault credentials on the API Accounts Tab, the password reset dialog will provide an option to request a phone call to reset your OpenVBX account password.

Giving users more choices is always awesome especially in the exciting world of Web telephony. It’s also interesting to note that Tropo is Twilio’s biggest competitor and each command a loyal following of developers.

Now I cannot wait to see the next iteration of OpenVBX…

8×8 buys Contactual, Dan York leaves Voxeo

Guess which piece of news came as a shocker?

Dan York, master tweeter and Director of Conversations at Voxeo, will join the nonprofit organization Internet Society (“ISOC”) starting next week, to “join the fight for the open Internet“:

The particular project I will join within ISOC is a brand new initiative targeted at helping bridge the gap between the standards created within the IETF and the network operators and enterprises who are actually deploying networks and technologies based on those standards. To help translate those standards into operational guidance… to help people understand how to deploy those standards and why they should, what benefit they will see, etc

The initiative is currently called the “Deployment and Operationalization Hub”, or “DO Hub”, and while that may or may not be its final name, the idea is to find/curate content that is already out there created by others, create content where there are gaps, make it easy to distribute information about these resources… and promote the heck out of it so that people get connected to the resources that they need. The initial focus will be, somewhat predictably, on IPv6, but also DNSSEC and possibly another technology. It is a new project and the focus is being very deliberately kept tight to see how effective this can be,

My title will be Senior Content Strategist and my role will very much be about the creation, curation and distribution of information. Writing articles, reviewing resources, blogging, creating videos, screencasts, etc, Once we have the initial repository built out, there will be a phase next year where we will be out on the conference circuit talking about these technologies and helping people understand how they can get started… and continually adding even more content.

ISOC, consider yourself very lucky! Best of luck, Dan, and keep those blogs and tweets comin’ — open Internet FTW!

…in other industry news, 8×8 has acquired Contactual in an all-stock deal to bolster its cloud solutions. (Is there a company today that doesn’t go through M&A except for “cloud”?) Press release:

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Sept. 12, 2011 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — 8×8, Inc. (Nasdaq:EGHT), provider of innovative cloud communications and computing solutions, today announced it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire privately-held Contactual, Inc., a provider of cloud-based call center and customer interaction management solutions, in an all stock transaction that will not exceed 6.7 million shares of common stock of 8×8. 8×8 expects the transaction to close prior to September 30, 2011. 8×8 has been successfully reselling Contactual’s call center technologies as part of its business communications services since 2007 and has seen strong, escalating demand for these services across the 8×8 customer base.

The acquisition of Contactual will further enhance 8×8’s growing suite of cloud services, bolstering its unique position in the market as a single source provider of SaaS (Software as a Service) and IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) business solutions, in keeping with its previously stated strategic growth initiatives. Contactual’s revenue for calendar year 2010 was approximately $8.3 million, inclusive of approximately 10% of revenue received from 8×8. The acquisition is expected to be immediately accretive to 8×8’s full fiscal year net income after the exclusion of any one-time costs associated with the acquisition and amortization expenses.

Contactual Call Center solutions will be offered as a resale opportunity to all 8×8 channel partners as part of the company’s recently launched go-to-market channel program which provides partners with the ability to resell a broad range of cloud based services. Currently, 8×8 offers more than 20 cloud services including VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), Conferencing, Video and Cloud Computing.

“8×8 is committed to becoming the industry’s premier provider of cloud-based communications and mission critical services and applications to businesses of all sizes,” said Bryan Martin, Chairman and CEO of 8×8. “The acquisition of Contactual is a natural extension of this strategy as it significantly broadens our technological expertise and service offerings in the customer interaction management and contact center space. At the same time, the acquisition allows us to realize operational cost savings and enhanced customer satisfaction resulting from the tighter integration of the Contactual technology platform within 8×8’s services and network.”

Headquartered in Redwood City, California, Contactual provides small businesses and enterprise departments with an efficient way to improve customer satisfaction while lowering costs. Contactual’s patented OnDemand Contact Center decouples the call center from the physical constraints of on-premise equipment, empowering companies to deploy agents anywhere there is an Internet connection. By giving clients the ability to break their long-standing dependency on telephony and hardware, the Contactual solution lowers operating costs, improves customer and agent satisfaction, and speeds workflow through faster provisioning and advanced reporting. Contactual has customers ranging from Fortune 500 companies to small and medium businesses, and distribution partners serving the U.S, Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia.

“Today, many of our largest customers are already subscribing to hosted call center services utilizing the Contactual platform, and we are seeing increased demand for these services from our large, channel-originated prospective customers,” said Martin. “The Contactual solution has been proven in enterprise deployments with 8×8’s communications services for more than four years and incorporates a world class user interface, rich multimedia feature set and outstanding reliability metrics. With the complete integration of this offering under one software and services platform, we will now be more fully integrating these capabilities into our existing services, and also be able to build even more competitively priced call center capabilities for our small business customer base.”

In a recent Frost & Sullivan report on the hosted contact center industry, the market research firm stated, “Frost & Sullivan believes that the hosted contact center market is moving quickly out of the early adopter stage, with immense growth potential for the future. Based on our most current research, Frost & Sullivan forecasts overall hosted revenues to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.1% from 2009 through 2013. For small seat deployments (< 100 seats) alone, this aggressive growth is forecasted at an even higher CAGR of 41.3% for the same period.”

About 8×8, Inc.

8×8, Inc. (Nasdaq:EGHT), a pioneer in the development of cloud-based VoIP, video, mobile, and unified communications solutions, leverages its patented software technologies to deliver industry-leading SaaS applications to businesses of any size with employees in any location. We offer integrated business communications and cloud computing services that are designed to meet the highest levels of availability, reliability and scalability. Increasingly, businesses are finding they can reduce costs, improve productivity, and be positioned competitively for the future by choosing 8×8 for their mission critical, cloud-based communications and computing needs. For additional information, visit www.8×8.com, or connect with 8×8 on Facebook and Twitter.

Forward Looking Statements

This news release contains “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. These statements include, without limitation, information about future events based on current expectations, potential product development efforts, near and long-term objectives, potential new business, strategies, organization changes, changing markets, future business performance and outlook. Such statements are predictions only, and actual events or results could differ materially from those made in any forward-looking statements due to a number of risks and uncertainties. Actual results and trends may differ materially from historical results or those projected in any such forward-looking statements depending on a variety of factors. These factors include, but are not limited to, the possibility that we and Contactual may be unable to achieve expected synergies and other benefits from the proposed transaction within the expected time-frames or at all, integration of the operations of Contactual with our own may be more difficult, time-consuming or costly than expected, revenues of the combined business following the transaction may be lower than expected, our ability to retain key employees of 8×8 and Contactual subsequent to the completion of the transaction, the conditions to the completion of the transaction may not be satisfied, customer acceptance and demand for our products and services, the reliability of our services, the prices for our services, customer renewal rates, customer acquisition costs, actions by our competitors, including price reductions for their telephone services, potential federal and state regulatory actions, compliance costs, potential warranty claims and product defects, our needs for and the availability of adequate working capital, our ability to innovate technologically, the timely supply of products by our contract manufacturers, potential future intellectual property infringement claims that could adversely affect our business and operating results, and our ability to retain our listing on the NASDAQ Capital Market. For a discussion of such risks and uncertainties, which could cause actual results to differ from those contained in the forward-looking statements, see “Risk Factors” in the Company’s reports on Forms 10-K and 10-Q, as well as other reports that 8×8, Inc. files from time to time with the Securities and Exchange Commission. All forward-looking statements are qualified in their entirety by this cautionary statement, and 8×8, Inc. undertakes no obligation to update publicly any forward-looking statement for any reason, except as required by law, even as new information becomes available or other events occur in the future.

CONTACT: Joan Citelli

         joan.citelli@8x8.com

         (408) 654-0970

Source: 8×8, Inc.

News Provided by Acquire Media

ITEXPO: Hoot.me making strides after StartupCamp win

John Stepp, President of Free Tech Consultants, is in Austin, TX for the ITEXPO West conference. He caught up with hoot.me, the winner of last year’s StartupCamp, started by students from the University of Texas at Austin. If you have an interesting product or industry tip to share during the conference, you may reach John via Twitter @FreeTechConsult.

Entrepreneurial spirit and innovation will be on display at StartupCamp 4 tonight at the ITEXPO show in Austin, Texas.  There is nothing more fun to me than checking out new and innovative tech products, especially those in the communications space. I thought it would be interesting to follow up with Michael Koetting of hoot.me, the winner of StartupCamp 3 seven months ago, to see the progress that hoot.me has made since their win.

Born and developed at UT Austin, hoot.me is currently rolling out at five universities.  The hoot.me application allows students to use Facebook in “study” mode.  So a student that is stumped by a biology question can seek out other students who are also in study mode to get help by clicking on a person logged into the biology study group or checking archives on biology to see if their issues has been addressed.  If the issues a student is having with a particular subject cannot be easily solved, then they can hit a tutor button to access the tutor marketplace.  There they can view the tutors Facebook picture, their bio, their craft score rating and the cost per time frame to choose the tutor that is best for them.  They also may see a designation like the “House of Tutors” at the University of Texas that would lend credibility to the tutor.  The monetization for hoot.me comes from taking a cut from the student-to-tutor transactions.  Koetting said that they were currently working to ensure that the five universities where they are rolling out (including schools like UT Austin and Ohio State) attracted the tutors they needed to secure positive cash flow before expanding at the beginning of 2012.

Some of the value-added features of hoot.me for students are 8-party video embedded in Facebook, smart chat, and screen sharing. Professors can also communicate with students using hoot.me. Koetting and the hoot.me crew have been busy working with DreamIt Ventures, a startup incubator that provided additional seed capital, office space, and mentoring in New York City along with 13 other startups this summer. Following the Bill Gates model they are leaving school early to work full-time on growing and promoting hoot.me.

Koetting and his team have stayed consistent with the message that was delivered to potential investors attending StartupCamp3 and has methodically laid the groundwork for a successful company. Hoot.me has demonstrated that they were a deserving winner. It will be great to see a new set of entrepreneurs pitch their concepts at StartupCamp4.

Zendesk adds voice capability thanks to Twilio

Zendesk is a popular web-based customer support platform (e.g. help desk, ticketing, etc.) launched just three years ago. Some notable customers include the Denver Broncos, Gawker Media, Groupon, OpenTable, Sears, Sony Music, Tumblr, Yammer, and University of Lincoln (UK) — a good mix of market verticals and sizes.

Now with Twilio-powered Zendesk Voice, businesses can voice-enable their Zendesk system to provide call center features in mere minutes. According to Zendesk’s blog:

…Control your greetings, wait-times and voicemail rules, and call routing. You can even choose your hold music. So if smooth jazz or yacht rock is your thing, then go for it!

What’s most exciting about Voice is how easy and convenient it makes phone support. Agents can take calls directly with their computer, desktop phone, or even on-the-go by routing calls to their mobile phone. And then the best part is a ticket is automatically created with every call, and recorded transcripts are embedded into that ticket. You won’t lose any details from a call. For the customer, there’s no more having to hunt around for that scrap of paper containing the vital details from your call. For the agents, there’s no more having to track down which agent took the original call or the need to bounce a customer around from agent to agent.

Sounds like an attractive solution for a company in need to bring up a contact center quickly. Most impressed with how Zendesk Voice offers screen-pop, call recording, and automatic transcription of voicemails, all based in the cloud.

And at $0.05 per minute — phone number (no toll-free numbers yet), voicemail transcription, and call recording included — this is close to a no brainer for a business looking to expand its customer service options without having to commit to hardware and software purchases for a premise-based solution.

FastCustomer raises $750K, heats up virtual queuing competition

What can $750,000 do for a young company that already boasts 50,000 users across its iPhone and Android apps? According to TechCrunch, FastCustomer (previously covered here)

will be using the new financing to expand its team, increase user acquisition and  expand to other platforms. [CEO Aaron Dragushan] hopes that one day customers will be able to use the service by text.

Being on hold waiting for service in no fun. FastCustomer is a no-brainer mobile app that saves you time with just one click.

Others in the virtual queuing space include Fonolo and LucyPhone. Recently Fonolo has seen success in attracting business customers, whereas LucyPhone continues to serve consumers.

Have you used these services? Please share your experience with other readers.

Permira: No love for ALU Enterprise, just Genesys

The Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise bidding saga continues

The latest report from Bloomberg puts a damper on the whole deal:

Permira, which had been in exclusive talks to buy the enterprise unit, is now in non-exclusive talks for Genesys, the part of the unit that makes software for managing customer call centers, a person with direct knowledge of the talks said on Sept. 2. Permira is a London-based buyout fund. Alcatel-Lucent fell as much as 7.7 percent, after dropping 4.1 percent Sept. 2.

Talk about prolonging the agony.

Alcatel-Lucent wants money for selling its Enterprise business — in the neighborhood of $1 billion.

Nobody’s interested now except Permira but just the Genesys piece, which is unlikely to fetch that dollar amount for ALU.

At this point it’s all a mess. ALU isn’t getting what it hoped for and perhaps neither will Permira. Nobody is happy and everyone’s a loser… ALU shareholders are watching their equity vaporize before their eyes, ALU Enterprise folks are feeling abandoned, Genesys employees (and customers) face an uncertain future, and Permira may never prospect for a telecom deal again.

Oh, did anyone notice the rumors of Europocalypse growing louder and more depressing economic data coming from the U.S?