Amazon Not Yapping About Yap

Amazon.com acquired automated speech recognition service company Yap on the down low back in September, and the world's largest e-tailer still isn't talking.

The Seattle-based e-commerce powerhouse never publicly announced the acquisition. The purchase was only discovered thanks to Charlotte, N.C.–based blogger [http://cltblog.com/23836] Justin Ruckman, who noticed an SEC filing of plans to merge Yap with Dion Acquisition, which is housed in Amazon.com's headquarters.

Calls to Amazon were not returned, and Yap unceremoniously discontinued its voicemail service on October 20, leaving many users hanging by the sudden shutdown.

Right now it's anyone's guess what Amazon's plans with Yap are, though there are myriad theories. Will future versions of its new tablet, Kindle Fire, incorporate speech recognition?

Currently, the Kindle Fire does not have a microphone, but that could change with future upgrades. But, pointing to the Kindle Fire theory, Bernstein Research senior analyst Carlos Kirjner said in a research note that he expects two new Kindle Fire models will hit the market by the fourth quarter of 2012.

Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps says Amazon could use Yap's technology in a slew of different ways. "Amazon could be considering voice integration into a number of products: tablets like the Kindle Fire; Amazon apps for other devices; as well as future devices Amazon could create, such as smartphones and wearable devices," Epps said.

Neil Shah, research analyst at Strategy Analytics, sees the buy as a good fit since both companies have cloud-based offerings, but sees Yap's voice technology as more of a fit with e-tailing.

"Yap and Amazon have different business models, but it's a smart acquisition because it expands the online retail experience and gives users a different product," Shah says. "Amazon users will be able to search books, MP3s, or other products by speaking which titles they're looking for. Kindle Fire then takes that technology mobile."

Commenting on the acquisition, Declan Lonergan, a research vice president at Yankee Group, believes Amazon's use of Yap services lies not so much in the technology as in its integration.

"Though the technology is important, the real key to success is implementation," Lonergan said in a blog. "Voice recognition technology has been around for years but has failed to make a real breakthrough. Nobody has found the secret sauce to create good user experiences centered on voice-based interaction with a personal device. But they're not giving up just yet. Voice enablement will be a hot bed of activity in the smartphone space during the next couple of years as every device vendor searches for that elusive combination of usability, wow factor, and being first to market."

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