Softbank’s Rising Sun Shines on Nuance

Last week, Nuance Communications revealed that its engine powers the speech recognition capabilities of BB Softservice’s Speeek application for the iPhone. BB Softservice is the broadband and e-commerce arm of Japanese mobile 3G carrier Softbank.

The Speeek application is a voice-enabled electronic dictionary that translates Japanese into English or Chinese. A user speaks a Japanese phrase to the application and it repeats it back, translated, allowing the user to both use Speeek as an on-the-fly translator and learning tool. When a user speaks his phrase to the application, it searches its database of phrases and displays the resulting hits for selection to ensure that the translation is accurate. A list of potential replies that might be given to the user is also provided.

For now, its functionality is limited 1,500 phrases that correspond to as many as eight different “high likelihood translation situations.” The scenarios include navigating an airport, staying in a hotel, eating at a restaurant, arranging for transportation, sightseeing, as well as some other basic conversations and common phrases.

Nuance sees an opportunity for growth in the Asian translation market, particularly as trade relationships grow beyond national and language barriers. Nuance believes the demand for Japanese learners to become conversant in English and Chinese is huge. The growth of mobile applications as a tool for achieving that presents it with promise.

“[Speeek is] a pretty exciting application because it’s running on a mobile phone….It is an example of where the language learning electronics that exist today, and they are plentiful in Asia, are starting to cross over into the mobile phone environment. That’s what’s so exciting about the electronics space now. The difference between a language learning device, a mobile phone, a personal navigation device—all of these things are starting to blend together and converge….and speech can play such a critical role as input to all these devices,” says Michael Thompson, senior vice president and general manager at Nuance Mobile.

According to Thompson, Japan is a major source of revenue for Nuance. The company has a stake in four major markets there: automotives, mobile phones, video game speech, and now translation. This last market it something that Nuance is only just start to develop now, though.

“We actually do more translation business in China than we do in Japan. But it is growing in Japan. It will grow for in the region for years to come, I think,” he says.


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