Apple's Siri has changed our expectations of how smartphones operate, and now, Nuance's new voice agent may do the same for mobile customer-service apps. On Monday, the veteran voice recognition provider introduced Nina, a virtual voice assistant designed specifically for mobile customer-service apps on iOS and Android devices.
The company said that Nina enhances the "self-service experience for customers" by combining Nuance's speech recognition, Text to Speech, voice biometrics, and cloud-based Natural Language Understanding technology.
Nuance said Nina's use in mobile customer service apps is significant because it is the first to "incorporate both speech recognition and voice biometrics into a single integrated solution." Additionally, the company said, Nina is "the first solution" that offers a software development kit for integrating the voice agent into existing mobile apps and for branding the assistant persona with one of the available voices and with visuals.
Robert Weideman, executive vice president and general manager of the Nuance Enterprise Division, said in a statement that Nina "is a watershed innovation for the automated customer service industry," not only because of the use of a virtual voice assistant in the app, but because "it raises the bar through its level of interactive dialog and language understanding."
Weideman said Nina offers a "major competitive differentiator by enabling more successful self-service through a mobile app.''
Nina's pre-made persona includes interactive elements of being awake, asleep, listening, processing, or answering a request. If a developer is looking for a different voice beyond the options provided, Nuance said it can create a customized one for an additional fee.
Like Siri, the intelligence behind Nina is delivered through Nuance's hosted platform, which provides the speech recognition, interactive dialog management and voice biometrics services.
The SDK offers binary APIs for core services, virtual assistant APIs for persona customization, and reference designs with pre-designed templates and tasks for store location, bill pay, account information, and more than 200 other functions related to banking. The company said that the reference designs can be used by developers to create capabilities for other industries, such as retail, insurance, travel or government.
Nuance said that USAA, which provides financial services for members and veterans of the U.S. military and their families, is one of the first companies to incorporate the virtual assistant into its mobile app. A pilot is scheduled for testing this month, with full release early in 2013.
We asked Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, about the inevitable comparison to Apple's Siri voice agent. Greengart noted that "Apple was not the first to introduce voice recognition," and he pointed to Nuance's long, pioneering history in this field. But, he said, Apple "set the stage by anthropomorphizing the voice agent and tying the app to certain situations."
He also noted that Nina, like Siri, "will only be as good as the information processing backing it" in the cloud. Apple's voice agent has generally received good marks for its level of cloud-based intelligence, a bar which will undoubtedly become a key measure for how smart Nina is.