Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) has quietly acquired small speech recognition startup Yap, providing yet another point of competition for the e-commerce giant versus rivals Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG).
Launched in 2006, Yap was acquired Sept. 8 by a concern called Dion Acquisition Sub, according to this legal filing. That firm shares the address of an Amazon.com building in Seattle.
Yap Voicemail was a voicemail transcription application for devices based on Apple iOS and Google's Android platforms, according to CLTBlog, which unearthed the acquisition after learning that the service was being shuttered. Yap Voicemail went silent Oct. 20, according to the company's Website.
Given Yap's clear speech recognition intellectual property, it's tempting to view the deal as a competitive play against Apple and Google.
Apple just launched its Siri personal assistant on its iPhone 4S, which lets users order their phones to retrieve information and complete basic tasks by speaking into their phones. Google has allowed users to conduct voice searches on iPhones and Android devices for the last three years, including Voice Actions, which provide Siri-like functionality.
Amazon, which did not respond to eWEEK's questions about the acquisition, will likely use Yap's functionality to provide speech recognition as an alternative input mode to typing on its Kindle e-reader devices and future versions of the Kindle Fire.
While the first Kindle Fire will not launch with a microphone Nov. 15, Kindle e-reader have had them since 2010, as Wired noted. Imagine being able to flip from one page to the next by speaking. Readers might also speak to make voice annotations in the margins of the Kindle book's pages.
Perhaps Amazon, which has its own hardware gadget lab, is building a secret super phone, but that is extended conjecture.
Whatever Amazon is using Yap for, speech recognition as an alternative input mode has thus far been just that-an alternative used sparingly by the majority of smartphone, tablet and computer owners.
Google has said it sees a fair amount of voice searches on mobile, but that figure is certainly dwarfed by the number of mobile searches people execute by typing. Google said in June it has seen a sixfold growth in spoken inputs from the year-ago period.
Finally, Google this past summer launched Google Voice Search on the desktop, allowing users to simply speak into the computer's microphones to search for what they want on Google.com.
Yet just as Apple's iPhone made the smartphone a must-have mainstream handset in the United States, it might take the mainstreaming of Apple's Siri app on the iPhone 4S to help speech recognition break broader ground for the niche. But don't count on it. Old habits, such as typing out emails and Web searches, die hard.
Even so, Amazon's foray into speech recognition provides one more weapon in a growing arsenal it can use versus its rivals Google and Apple as they battle for consumers on the desktop and mobile Web.