Report: Nuance may be in sales talks with Samsung and others

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Nuance Communications has reportedly held talks regarding a sale of the company with an unknown number of prospective buyers, according to a report.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Nuance had held discussions with Samsung as well as a number of private-equity firms, the paper said. The paper said that it hadn't nailed down whether those talks were serious, or would lead to a deal.

Nuance, a combination of a number of different companies, was origianlly a spinoff of SRI in 1994. One of the early scanner companies, Visioneer, acquired ScanSoft in 1999 and then merged with Nuance in 2005, taking the Nuance name. Today, Nuance is mainly known for its Dragon voice recognition software and its early work in developing intelligent assistant software. At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, for example, several top PC makers including Dell said that they would include the Dragon Assistant in upcoming PCs. 

Nuance, however, is seen as one of the companies that can challenge Apple's Siri (itself an SRI spinoff), Microsoft's Cortana, and Google's Google Now technology in the emerging market for digital assistants. As more and more consumers begin buying into mobile, desktop and even automotive ecosystems, developers like Google have tried to build the data these devices collect into a cohesive whole.

Nuance has so far played the role of outsider, building relationships with companies like Amazon, Ford and Subaru to take their technology where the others have not. Nuance has even experimented with trying to forge emotional relationships with its users, in the style of the Spike Jonze movie, Her.

As the Journal noted, however, activist investor Carl Icahn is the company's largest stakeholder, at 19 percent. That's the most potent evidence in favor of an argument that Nuance is shopping itself.

Who might buy Nuance? A number of possibilities present themselves. Samsung, for example, is trying to build itself into the dominant player in the Android ecosystem. Amazon is, as well, with rumors that a smartphone is around the corner. And if Google's vision of a self-driving car comes to pass, an intelligent agent to manage things would be a virtual necessity. 

Nuance continues to lose money, making a sale more likely. But the company's technology may make it a prize for the taking.

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