Apple Buys a Start-Up for Its Voice Technology
Apple continued its migration into Google’s turf on Wednesday with the acquisition of Siri, a mobile application that allows users to perform Web searches by voice command on a cellphone.
Siri, a start-up based in San Jose, Calif., describes itself as a virtual personal assistant for the iPhone and the iPod Touch. For example, Siri users can speak commands like “find a table for two at 9 tonight” or “send a taxi to my house”; using GPS and speech-recognition technology, the application translates the commands and uses search algorithms to find answers. For results, Siri worked with several companies, including Citysearch, OpenTable and Taxi Magic.
An Apple spokesman, Steve Dowling, declined to comment on the specifics of the Siri deal. “Apple buys smaller companies from time to time but doesn’t comment on products or plans,” he said.
Norman Winarsky, vice president of licensing and strategic programs at SRI International, a research lab that helped develop the application, confirmed the sale but declined to disclose any financial details of the transaction. Mr. Winarsky described the sale of Siri, which was released as a mobile app in February, as “a great event for us in terms of our impact on the world.”
Before its sale to Apple, Siri raised a total of $24 million from investors, including Menlo Ventures and Li Ka-Shing, a Chinese billionaire who has also invested in Facebook.
Apple may eventually hope to offer an alternative to Google’s search service on the iPhone, the iPod Touch and the iPad, said Charles S. Golvin, an analyst with Forrester Research. Google has made large investments in voice command search, location-based search and advertising and in visual recognition search.
“Apple is trying to break ties to Google,” Mr. Golvin said. “Rather than have search in the browser, users would have a more relevant search application to use.”
Apple has acquired several smaller companies over the last few months as part of a larger effort to gain an edge on rival mobile companies. Most recently, Apple bought Intrinsity, a company that makes a speedy computer chip for mobile devices that uses very little battery power while processing graphics, video and other images. In January, Apple acquired Quattro Wireless, a mobile advertising company.
“This is as much about keeping this good technology away from Google as it is about wanting it for themselves,” Mr. Golvin said.
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