Ivona, a Polish company, is no exception, judging by this avatar from the company’s website. She is likely to be coming to more Kindle devices soon, following Amazon’s acquisition of the company on Thursday. The most tantalysing question, though: Is Ivona also Amazon’s answer to Siri and a sign that it will soon be in the smartphone business?
There are two ways of interpreting Amazon’s purchase of Ivona, whose technology is already used in the Kindle Fire.
It might simply be part of a plan to bring spoken text to Kindle e-readers. As this piece points out, Amazon has run into protests from the National Federation of the Blind over whether its e-readers are sufficiently accessible to the blind, something that may already have cost it a large contract with the US State department. (Update: Amazon had rudimentary text-to-speech functionality on some older Kindles but has now limited it to the Fire.)
Inevitably, though, the purchase has revived speculation that Amazon is gearing up to launch a smartphone. Certainly, speech-recognition looks like becoming an important weapon in the smartphone wars and Ivona could supply a key ingredient of the technology. But she is no Siri.
The Polish company specialises in speech synthesis, not the natural-language recognition that is an important part of voice-recognition services like the Apple voice-prompted search service, so its most immediate value would seem to lie in spoken books and other texts.
Ivona’s main claim to fame is the naturalness of its spoken voices: it has moved past the cool-but-sexy and now boasts 42 voices in 17 languages or distinct accents (English comes in American, British and Welsh flavours.)
Will one of these voices one day be talking to you on a smartphone? Probably. Amazon needs to round out its range of screen sizes if it is to counter Google and Apple. But the Ivona acquisition looks for now like it’s more directed at e-readers and doesn’t help much in handicapping Amazon’s intentions in smartphones.