Siri, did Apple buy Nuance’s silence?


First, RIP Steve Jobs. The world will miss you dearly. It was only the day before his death that relatively new Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the iPhone 4S.

So while many speculated and hoped for an iPhone 5 to be announced, it was only an iPhone 4S being the grand finale in the “Let’s Talk iPhone” event. Yet it was fitting that Apple chose that name for the event because the real star of the show was Siri, the new voice-capable assistant available exclusively on the iPhone 4S (thanks to its powerful dual-core A5 CPU).

The live Siri demo went without a hitch — Apple indeed risked a lot to publicly demonstrate its features right in front of journalists and bloggers. Although Siri’s still slapped with a “beta” sticker, it seemed solid enough during the demo.

The question on a lot of speech geeks’ minds is, of couse, does Siri use Nuance technology, considering all the rumors of an Apple/Nuance partnership? Even MG Siegler from TechCrunch wonders the same thing and based on the timing of an oddly worded Nuance press release, he seems to think so:

Hmm. Nuance seemed to be going out of their way to not say that they were powering the awesome new Siri feature of the iPhone 4S. In fact, it almost reads like a company that just got its hat handed to it by Apple, and wanted to give the “it’s great to see a massive company validate the space” statement.

So I decided to ask the representative directly: is Nuance powering the new Siri feature? The only thing said in response: “Apple licenses Nuance’s voice technology for use in some of its products.” Followed by, ”The company is not authorized to comment on specific capabilities or devices.”

Heh.

In other words, yes, Nuance is powering Siri. But Apple clearly struck a deal with Nuance which precludes them from talking about it. This is Apple technology, this is not about Nuance, is how I imagine Apple may put it. Apparently, Nuance is happy enough with Apple’s undoubtedly large check for this licensing agreement that they are willing to keep quiet.

(Side note: What’s also interesting from Siegler’s article is that Siri tried Vlingo first before settling on Nuance.)

In the past Apple hasn’t been shy to invite partners and developers on stage to toot horns, so why not Nuance in this case?

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