Speech pioneer Nuance focuses on differentiation from giants

Nuance Communications has been developing virtual assistants for years before Apple and the rest

Here’s a curious thing: you spend years and years, decades even, pushing a technology and taking all the arrows in the back that go with being a pioneer and then the biggest companies in the world come along and get the credit for their “innovation”.

That more or less describes the situation for Nuance Communications, the company that remains the largest specialist in speech control, transcription and dictation. Ask the person in the street about computer speech and they might name Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Google Assistant or Microsoft Cortana. But Massachusetts-headquartered Nuance has been offering virtual assistance of one sort or other for a long time (it has even provided technology to at least one of those aforementioned companies although it doesn’t comment on this).

So is it tough to see the giants getting all the recognition or vindication?

“It’s a bit bittersweet to be honest,” says Robert Weideman, executive vice president and general manager of the company when we spoke recently by phone. “We wished for the day when all of this becomes mainstream, but we were running to it when everyone was running away from it.”


A future in AI

Still, Nuance is no minnow and it has built up a sizeable business with a market cap that currently stands at almost $4.9bn, 13,500 staff and annual revenues of $1.9bn. Those numbers come on the back of a combination of revenue streams and licensing deals -- including those where Nuance provides the core voice technology in vehicles, medical transcription, software consoles and automated telephone directory services, as well as receiving income from OCR software, and boutique coding and services. Biometrics and security are growing areas with customers such as HSBC and Citibank using voice for user authentication.

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