Nuance, Intel build speech commands into PCs -- finally

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LAS VEGAS—PCs from Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo will soon include Nuance’s Dragon Assistant, the speech giant’s technology for tweeting, Facebooking, and playing music using voice commands. 

Nuance announced the partnerships here at CES, for both PCs and tablets running the Intel Core and Atom processors. Nuance executives don’t necessarily envision the technology being used at the office. Instead, Dragon Assistant will be constantly running on the new PCs, ready to answer questions such as “Who directed Pulp Fiction?”

”Our objective working with Intel was to bring the PC into the era that tablets have been enjoying with the launch of [Apple’s] Siri over the past few years,” Matt Revis, the vice president and general manager of Dragon Devices for Nuance Communications said in an interview in advance of the show. 

If a partnership between Nuance and various PC makers sounds familiar, well, it should. Nuance and Intel first announced the partnership at CES 2012. Then in September, Nuance announced a beta roll-out of Dragon Assistant, starting with the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook. What Nuance is announcing at CES 2014 is the “full realization” of the product,”  Revis said. But you won’t be able to buy Dragon Assistant as a standalone app or software package; it’s only available baked into the PC.

The next-generation Nuance Dragon Assistant is now available on Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo 2-in-1, tablet, Ultrabook, notebook, and AIO devices; it will reach devices from Asus and Toshiba in early 2014. For the first time, Dragon Assistant will be available on a tablet, coming first from Lenovo in early 2014.

So far, neither Siri nor Google’s Google Now run natively on either the Mac or the PC. (Google’s Voice Search Hotword extension for Chrome allows users to orally search Google if they install a Chrome extension and navigate to the Google homepage.) But Dragon Assistant comes closest to an always-on digital assistant for the PC—with the app running, you can launch a variety of actions just by saying “Hello Dragon.”

And what can you do with Dragon Assistant? Whoever sits in front of the mic can order Dragon to perform any number of actions, including the ability to navigate a Twitter and Facebook timeline, compose tweets and Facebook status messages using the included Dragon dictation engine, and search various apps. (“Search YouTube for surfing videos,” for example) Dragon itself needs to be connected to work at its full capabilities, although some of the basic functionality will work if your Web connection goes down. Unlike older Dragon implementations, you don’t need a headset and microphone.

At this point, Dragon shares its corpus of a particular user commands across its various platforms. For right now, however, Dragon Assistant won’t know your preferences or most commonly used commands—something that’s coming in future revisions, Revis said.

Most people undoubtedly reach for their smartphones when they want to fire off a quick tweet or ask a quick question of personal digital assistants like Siri or Google Now. But those still require pulling a smartphone out of one’s pocket, unlocking it, and then navigating to the appropriate page. For those with a PC always on and listening, the new Nuance Dragon Assistant for Intel-based PCs might be useful as well as entertaining. 

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