The Race for 'Effective' Speech Recognition Technology

The Race for 'Effective' Speech Recognition Technology


Microsoft, Google, Intel & Apple are all betting on speech recognition technology, each introducing their own approach to 'intelligent' voice controls for better a user experience. Who's best poised for success and where are the biggest growth opportunities in this space?

With Microsoft's announcement of Cortana (their bet on a formidable opponent to Apple's Siri), speech recognition technology (SRT) is back in the spotlight. SRT has been a highly sought after 'holy grail' in device and app related tech over the last decade, but recent improvements are making it more natural (read: powerful) than ever before. As the technology continues to evolve, new applications will be uncovered and the tech will have to adapt to meet these new needs. The mega-players in tech hardware are each taking their own approach to harnessing and integrating new SRT.

Nuance Communications, Siri and the Future

Up to this point Nuance has been the leading name in SRT development, and Nuance’s technology has found its way into products and services offered by a wide array of companies, including the highly publicized partnership with Apple for Siri. This partnership may be a driving force behind TechNavio's forecast that the Global Automatic Speech Recognition market will grow at a CAGR of 16.28 percent over the period 2013-2018.

The following video demonstrates some of Nuance’s achievements with SRT:

Google has been making inroads in their own SRT technology as of late. When a new Android OS launched in 2013, they added a massive update to the SRT under the hood: "a voice recognition system based on what’s called a neural network — a computerized learning system that behaves much like the human brain." (from Wired) This type of intelligent processing allows for faster and more accurate SRT. “We’re now able to apply very large-scale parallel computing to interpret the sounds that you make," says Google's engineering director Scott Huffman. The software works by picking out individual parts of speech and then using that information to make guesses about the content of what is being said.

Intel's attempting an alternate approach, integrating the speech recognition technology into a device, forgoing the the need to send voice samples out to servers for processing and then back to the hardware. That device is 'Jarvis', a wireless headset that connects to a smartphone (currently Jarvis is only a 'reference device', so not available for commercial sale). Quartz says, "Not only is Intel’s voice recognition solution more responsive than those offered by its cloud-obsessed competitors, but it also leads to what Bell [Intel's head of wearables] calls 'graceful degradation,' which means that it works even when the phone it’s connected to is not online." Again, this speech recognition technology appears to be licensed from Nuance.

With Nuance leading the tech development on all fronts, is there any room for startups in this space?

Major hardware and software players are snatching up successful and innovative SRT startups. Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook have all made recent acquisitions as part of efforts to beef up their various speech recognition apps, with Google acquiring patents related to the tech. Venturebeat recently reported on Apple’s acquisition of Novauris, a pioneering SRT company that will likely improve the functionality of Siri. Although running against a behemoth like Nuance is a tough approach for any startup, a high level of M&A activity in this space may equal success (read: acquisition) for startups that effectively tackle a targeted aspect of SRT.

We've compiled a DataFox watchlist, with detailed insights into companies addressing SRT. Nuance is clearly both the leader (based on DataFox quality score) and 'grandfather' (based on age) in this space:


A recent Slate article brought to light the biggest area for improvement for SRT:  “Voice controls are being developed independently by entrepreneurs and large corporations. There’s a push to get more uniformity across platforms, but for the most part that kind of standardization is only within a company, such as Google or Microsoft, not across all the platforms and devices that are coming into existence. Even if there were a move to standardize voice interfaces, and we could do away with varied commands, how would each device know I was talking to it, specifically?” So, the biggest winner in this space may be the firm or technology behind such a ‘universal translator’, a baseline of controls that all speech recognition technologies will conform to.

Deep dive into the speech recognition technology space in our public DataFox watchlist. Glean insights into the leaders in this sector - investors, revenue, employee count, recent news and more: