Dev

iSpeech beams up a free speech platform for app developers

By now, shouldn’t we be able to say “beam me up, Scotty” and have it actually happen? Speech technology will fundamentally transform the way we interact with mobile apps and devices, but the technology is taking its sweet time to go mainstream. iSpeech is hoping to accelerate innovation, by making its self-service speech platform available for developers of iOS, Android and BlackBerry — for free.

Yes, BlackBerry too.

“We got our start on Blackberry,” iSpeech CEO and founder Heath Ahrens explains to VentureBeat. “We took the reverse approach. Rather than start with iPhone, work on Android, and perhaps do BlackBerry, we think all the platforms are equally as important, no matter what.”

iSpeech adds human quality text-to-speech (TTS, a term the company has trademarked) and speech recognition (ASR) to mobile apps. You can make your own demo with the free platform. iSpeech’s speech cloud has been used more than a billion times by 3,000 registered developers, according to the company. The iSpeech software developer kit (SDK) works almost exactly the same on all devices, important for apps like DailyHoroscope.

“Some of our BlackBerry users were complaining about font size,” says Max Binshtok, CEO of DailyHoroscope, in a phone interview with VentureBeat. “We fixed the font issue, but some people still don’t like reading on a small screen.”

Now they can listen to their horoscope. These daily fortune forecasts are quick reads, but it’s easy to see someone listening to them as they drive a car or take a break from listening to their iPod.

DailyHoroscope’s Binshtok says the quality of digital voice was the most important factor in deciding which platform to use. He says iSpeech sounds extremely human.

The speech industry is small and is dominated by speech recognition giant Nuance. Earlier in 2011 there were rumors voice control technology provided by Nuance would turn up in the next version of the iPhone, but new, elaborate voice features in iOS 5 were never announced during Apple’s June keynote. Apple has been radio silent on that front ever since.

A lack of competition has forced high prices in the speech technology industry. iSpeech CEO Ahrens says he likes the challenge of the current scenario.

“It’s better than there being 1,000 competitors,” he says in a phone interview. “This isn’t a ‘me too’ scenario. We’re trying to change the game in speech.”

App creators like Andre Gueziec, CEO of traffic reporting app Beat the Traffic, certainly appreciates a free platform. Beat the Traffic currently has 1.2 million downloads and hundreds of thousands of transactions per day. Gueziec says that while those numbers aren’t huge, the amount of time users spend with the app is.

“We have a lot of transactions and while we monetize, we don’t want to pay for every transaction,” Gueziec says. “It may work for Nuance but it’s not working for us. We don’t get paid per transaction. We get a lot of engagement from our audience and we are trying to drive innovations to improve customer experience.”

Beat the Traffic experimented with in-house efforts, but now exclusively uses iSpeech to support all of the app’s platforms. There will be a new version for iPhone in the fall.

iSpeech is currently working on celebrity voices. You can download President Obama’s or President Bush’s voice. The company won’t say whose voice they are currently working on, but my vote is for Captain Kirk.


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