Nuance buys into mobile speech-enabled services

Speech-recognition vendor Nuance will buy cell-phone speech-enabled service provider MobileVoiceControl.

Nuance Communications will acquire MobileVoiceControl, which provides a service that lets mobile phone users find and download information without pressing so many keys.

Nuance has agreed to acquire MobileVoiceControl, a privately held provider of a service that lets phone users dictate and send e-mail and text messages, search the Web, create calendar entries and call their contacts through speech recognition. They only have to press one key on the phone to get started, according to the companies.

Although typing words with a numeric keypad is routine in some parts of the world and among younger cell-phone users, many people find it hard to do. This factor, plus the need to look at the phone and navigate a multilevel hierarchy to find all the features and content on it, may be holding back full use of new handsets and services. Carriers are starting to embrace speech recognition as a way around this barrier.

Sprint Nextel in the US already offers the MobileVoiceControl service on some devices, and users can also download it from Handango. MobileVoiceControl offers versions for selected Microsoft Windows Mobile, Palm PalmOS and Research In Motion BlackBerry devices. It requires a monthly subscription fee. Gannett Co. provides news, sports, weather and other information, along with ads, from its USA Today newspaper on the MobileVoiceControl service.

Nuance is the maker of Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 software for PCs and a major vendor of core speech-recognition technology. It supplies that core technology to providers of mobile speech-enabled products, including V-Enable, and will continue to do so, said Nuance spokeswoman Kristen Wylie. Nuance also has its own mobile system, called Nuance Mobile, in beta testing. By combining its underlying technology with the work MobileVoiceControl has already done, the company can build a complete service that is better at recognizing what end users say, Wylie said.

MobileVoiceControl's employees will join Nuance, Wylie said. The companies did not disclose the financial terms of the agreement, which is expected to close by the end of the month.

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