Nuance buys voice-recognition app maker Vlingo

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Nuance Communications and Vlingo gave people plenty to talk about Tuesday. The two makers of voice-driven apps announced that Nuance is buying Vlingo for an undisclosed sum.

In addition to a pair of Mac transcription products, Nuance offers a smattering of iOS apps. In addition to the Dragon Dictation speech-to-text dictation app—and spinoffs targeted at medical professionals and users—Nuance also makes Dragon Go, a natural language search tool that attempts to provided contextualized results for your spoken queries. (A request for restaurants near you, for example, will turn up results in Yelp, while a movie showtimes request yields Fandango results.)

Vlingo has also made a name for itself with voice-driven apps on the iOS platform. Its self-titled app for the iPhone and iPod touch can send dictated text messages and emails, activate phone calls, search the Web and maps, and update your social networks using spoken commands.

Nuance’s Vlingo purchase “really accelerates the pace of innovation” both companies are bringing to the world of voice-driven natural language applications, Nuance president Steve Chambers told Macworld on Tuesday. The companies share the same vision involving global access via the spoken word, he said, and the acquisition “means we’re going to get there faster.”

The Vlingo acquisition comes just as the market for voice-driven virtual assistance seems to be booming. In announcing the deal, Nuance described a “$5 billion market opportunity” for voice-enabled capabilities that covers phones, tablets, cars, televisions, navigation devices, PCs, and music players. Even if that estimate strikes you as optimistic, it’s clear that Siri—the voice-driven personal assistant feature built into Apple’s iPhone 4S—has captured the imagination of device users. (In fact, Siri uses some of Nuance's technology under the hood.) Siri was bought by Apple in a 2010 deal.

Indeed, Chambers conceded that the “Siri effect was an underpinning of this acquisition,” citing the rapid embrace of Siri among iPhone 4S users and praising Apple’s ability to make voice-activated services accessible to consumers.

“It was a definitely a factor,” Chambers says of Siri’s impact on Nuance’s Vlingo purchase, “though not as recent [a factor] as you might think.”

Less clear is the long-term futures of the individual apps offered by Nuance and Vlingo. While the companies’ assorted iOS apps remained on the App Store Tuesday, Chambers declined to comment about post-acquisition plans for specific apps, though users can expect some future integration.

“We’re going to be adding innovation from Vlingo” into Nuance’s offerings, Chambers added.

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