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Google buys Phonetic Arts to get more natural phone speech

updated 02:00 pm EST, Fri December 3, 2010

Google acquires Phonetic Arts for voice results

Google on Friday confirmed that it had bought Phonetic Arts in a boost to spoken text on mobile devices. The Cambridge, UK-based company is best known for a suite of tools that generate more natural-sounding computer-generated voices by blending phonemes together and sampling real voices. It would most likely be used for tools such as Google Maps Navigation on Android but also Google Translate and other independent features.

The team is expected to join Google's London office in the near future. Neither company has detailed the specific future plans, but it would "move a little faster towards that Star Trek future," Speech Technology manager Mike Cohen said.

Acquiring Phonetic Arts might widen Google's edge in speech technology over Apple. Google already has more extensive voice commands through Android 2.2's Voice Actions, but Apple recently bought out Siri with an aim towards more natural language searching, although it didn't share the same emphasis on voice synthesis as Phonetic Arts. iPhones have spoken features such as VoiceOver and acknowledgements of commands in Voice Control, but these have a relatively limited pool of dialogue and are usually based on existing Mac OS X voice feedback.

by MacNN Staff



  1. LenE

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Improving quality over quantity

    Yesterday, I watched an office mate try to dial a friend with his Android phone for five minutes. His screen was broken, so voice control was his only option. It was a painful five minutes as it couldn't understand his clearly spoken commands, and we couldn't understand what it thought he may have said. My friend has a relatively small address book on his phone, and it was failing hard.

    Now, on my iPhone, I have nearly 500 entries in my address book. The only time it doesn't understand my commands is when my six year old daughter yells something in the background. Then, I can clearly understand what the phone tells me it thought I said.

    I wouldn't call Android's speech technology anything close to an edge over Apple. The extra commands are useless if its understanding or voicing sucks. The only edge it ever had was before Apple added Voice Control.

    -- Len

  1. DerekMorr

    Joined: Dec 1969


    A few thoughts

    * This article is about voice synthesis (text to speech). Your example is about voice recognition (speech to text). These are difference technologies.

    * Like any voice recognition system, results will vary by user. Android's voice recognition works fairly well for me. It's not perfect, but it works correctly most of the time.

    * Android's voice recognition is integrated into the OS. It comes in two parts: Voice Actions, which are similar to Voice Control in iOS (e.g., things like "call Sue Smith", "send text to John Doe", "listen to Nina Simone", etc). These are documented here -

    The other aspect is voice input, which works in any text box in any app (aside from password fields). You can use it to search the New York Times or Kindle app, to take notes in Evernote, or to get driving directions. It's a substantially more integrated approach than Voice Control in iOS. I use this all the time; it's quickly become one of my favorite features of the phone.

  1. LenE

    Joined: Dec 1969



    My comment was both on recognition and text to speech. His Android phone couldn't recognize, which is one part of "speech", and it couldn't clearly synthesize speech, either. Perhaps his phone has a crappy speaker, but human voice sounded OK. In my opinion, Google needs to improve the quality of both.

    Now, I am amazed with what Google has done with general voice input, which works the same on their iPhone app as it does on Android. It makes me wonder why the recognition I witnessed in voice actions, the part that is similar to Voice Control, is so bad.

    -- Len

  1. zer0

    Joined: Dec 1969



    i hope they record Douglas Rain's and Majel Barrett's voices while they still can.

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