A partnership between Nokia and speech-recognition software vendor Nuance will make the software company's capabilities available to third-party developers as well as to the phone maker itself.
Nokia is already a major customer of Nuance, which provides both speech and predictive text capabilities on a number of Nokia's handsets. The deal announced Wednesday could bring more Nuance technology to Nokia phones but will also produce open protocols that developers can use to build such features into applications for the handsets.
Nuance is a major supplier of speech-recognition software for both PCs and mobile devices, and last year bought the maker of the widely used T9 software for completing words that cell-phone users are trying to type in e-mail or text messages. It has gone beyond basic voice-enabled functions such as dialing and now offers additional capabilities such as text or e-mail dictation and searching for content on a phone or products in an online mobile store. Nokia is the world's largest mobile-phone maker.
Under the new relationship, Nuance will provide Nokia with some of those more advanced features, said Michael Thompson, vice president and general manager of Nuance Mobile Speech. But the implications for third-party applications could be even more significant.
Full details haven't been worked out, but the idea will be to let developers using Nokia's Series 60 and Series 40 software platforms take advantage of Nuance's speech-recognition and other functions in their applications, Thompson said. Rather than having to approach Nuance separately, the developers would get access to those capabilities through the Nokia development platforms. The companies said they would provide developers with open programming interfaces, language models and development tools.
The applications they build could appear on a wide range of phones from low-end devices to smartphones, and Nuance's technology spans functions that take place both on devices and on servers, Thompson said. Server-based speech recognition, accessed over a high-speed mobile network, can leverage much greater processing power and consume less memory and battery life than what is done on the phone itself.
Nokia supports a large community of application developers, especially for its Series 60 smartphone platform, and is in the process of buying out the Symbian OS that forms the basis of Series 60 and making it available as open source through an entity called the Symbian Foundation. That move is part of the wider trend in the mobile industry, accelerated by Apple's iPhone App Store success, of creating and tapping into large developer communities to make devices compelling.
The deal is not exclusive, and the companies didn't reveal any financial details. The primary royalty arrangement would be between Nokia and Nuance, Thompson said.
Making the voice tools available to third-party developers might lead to a flowering of new voice-enabled mobile applications, including games, said analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates. But there's a danger of those third parties implementing the technology poorly, he added.
"Command and control is one thing," Gold said. "Understanding random speech patterns is very hard to do."