Amazon is Binging on Voice Recognition Companies – I say Mobile Shopping (& Not a Smartphone)

unnamed10[1]It looks like Amazon is having a lot of trouble with voice recognition, because they sure are throwing a lot of money at the problem.Techcrunch is reporting (and everyone is repeating) today that Amazon has quietly acquired Evi, a UK-based virtual assistant startup:

At UK Companies House all the Evi Technologies Ltd directors have been replaced by Amazon’s UK legal representative, and this is confirmed by the Octopus Ventures annual report. The annual reports of all Octopus Ventures’ funds all refer to the disposing of their shares in Evi Technologies.

Evi is available as an app on both iOS and Android. It's gotten a fair amount of attention in the past when it was almost booted from iTunes for being too much like Siri. While I have not used it myself, I have seen a demo video or 2 that suggest that Evi is the next best thing to Siri.

A lot of the posts today are mentioning that Ivona, the TTS and voice recognition firm that Amazon bought in January, and reaching the obvious conclusion that Amazon is aiming at a smartphone. I'm not so sure.

First of all, there's a detail that most seem to have missed. Amazon has been interested in this type of technology since at least November 2011, when they bought Yap. That startup developed a voicemail-to-text service that I'm sure uses much of the same tech as Siri and Evi (and Ivona for that matter).

I don't really know how that integrates with today's news other than to note that Amazon doesn't seem to have done anything with Yap in the 16 months since they bought it. The Evi purchase might amount to as little.

And secondly, I'm not sure how many people have considered why Amazon would would want Evi. It looks to me like they are thinking about how they would use a smartphone and not considering why Amazon would make one. I can answer that one:

  • Amazon will only make a smartphone if they can come up with a way to use it to sell stuff.

Amazon makes far more money on retail than they do on hardware. In fact, they don't make Kindle Fires for the gadget's sake but to serve Amazon's purpose. To put it another way, Amazon sees the Kindle Fire as their platform to sell you stuff.

I'm going to hold to the prediction I made in 2011, with a slight modification:

If I had to guess, I would bet that Amazon will use Yap/Ivona/Evi to enable speech-recognition in one of their shopping apps before they use it on the Kindle/smartphone. They'd want to make it easier for people to buy stuff because that's worth more than the Kindle.

I admit, I would like to see an Amazon smartphone. But retail is still Amazon's bread and butter, so if Amazon is throwing money at a problem it's much more likely that they want to improve their mobile shopping experience. Hardware comes a distant second.

And if this does show up on hardware, I would expect to see it on a Kindle Fire before I see it on Amazon's smartphone.  Improving the shopping experience on an established platform (before launching a new one) just seems like a good idea.

About Nate Hoffelder (11587 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

3 Comments on Amazon is Binging on Voice Recognition Companies – I say Mobile Shopping (& Not a Smartphone)

  1. It could be.
    For all the fun Kinect gaming brngs to XBOX it is the voice recognition side that brings the most value so Amazon might be using the voice commands in the FIRE tablets or in a Set-top box (my bit of out of the box Bezos tracking). After all, an Amazon STB would turn the TV into an Amazon storefront and the big screen would be perfect as an in home showroom.
    And it could deliver Prime Video, music, and tons of ads…

  2. They could have also done it to get the engineers.

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