August 7, 2012

Nuance Announces Siri Competitor Nina

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

For all the things Siri is currently good for– keeping in mind she´ll be upgraded this fall– there are a few instances where she admittedly lacks. In a somewhat cruel twist of irony, many of us didn´t realize we wanted Siri to perform the functions she can´t perform until she first came onto the scene. Sure, asking her to move our two o´clock to three o´clock is nice, and having her remind us to take out the trash every Wednesday has probably saved more than one marriage, but users continually want more functionality from her. After all, if she can tell us if it´s raining in Paris, shouldn´t she be able to open up a weather app?

If Siri can read us an email about an upcoming bill payment, shouldn´t she also be able to pay that bill for us if we ask very nicely?

Now, Nuance, the voice technology behind Dragon´s Naturally Speaking voice recognition applications, has announced a new Intelligent Personal Assistant to rival Siri, named Nina.

Nina, or Nuance Interactive Natural Assistant, will give users the ability to add speech-based capabilities to their existing iOS and even Android apps. In the end, the goal is to “deliver an interactive user experience that not only understands what is said, but also can identify who is saying it.”

Rather than have Apple dictate what Siri can and can´t do, Nina will provide an SDK to developers, allowing them the ability to write the voice-activated functionality into the apps themselves. In a promo video for Nina, users are seen doing things like paying their cable bills, booking later flights, and asking how much they´ve spent at the local pet store.

So, rather than having to tap through different apps to perform these simple tasks, users can, using their voice as a password, perform them all simply by speaking to their phones.

According to TechCrunch, Nuance believes, “the time is now for virtual assistants,” adding that, “the proliferation of voice-enabled assistants is making consumers comfortable asking a device, rather than a person, for information in a very intelligent, conversational way.”

In addition to allowing smartphone users the ability to perform all manner of tasks by simply speaking to their device, Nina also integrates Nuance´s VocalPassword tool which uses biometrics to determine whether the person speaking to the phone has the privileges to perform these tasks, adding an extra layer of security; A great feature, considering Nina will supposedly have access to personal information and sensitive apps, such as banking apps. Rather than typing a PIN or some other passcode, users can create their own passphrase to unlock Nina´s features.

So far, Nina has one partner in the USAA financial services group which hopes to launch a pilot app this month as well as an app for all USAA members by the end of the year.

Currently, the Nina SDK is available to developers in Australia, the UK and the US, though additional languages are slated for release later this year. Any developer looking to take advantage of Nina´s services can visit the Nuance developer page.

Apple already announced increased functionality for Siri in the upcoming iOS 6. In their demo of Siri´s new abilities during this year´s WWDC keynote, Siri was able to answer more questions, such as sports statistics. The new Siri will also be integrated in Apple´s new Maps app, taking over turn-by-turn navigation duties. Siri will also finally be able to open apps on the iPhone with voice controls.