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Meet Nina: Siri's cousin for apps

Apple collaborator Nuance releases a software development kit today for its own voice control program, called Nina.
Apple collaborator Nuance releases a software development kit today for its own voice control program, called Nina.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nina, a voice-control product like Apple's Siri, will be equipped for iOS and Android apps
  • Unlike Siri, Nina will allow other companies to use voice-control capabilities
  • Nina is aimed at app developers, service industries
  • Nina needs a strong network connection to work correctly

(Mashable) -- Siri may have her critics, but Apple's talkative virtual assistant is definitely useful for some functions, like checking the weather and texting.

Nuance, which works with Apple on voice control, now plans to take Siri-like abilities to more apps.

The product is called Nina, and it'll let businesses build voice capabilities right into their apps -- iOS or Android -- via a software development kit (SDK). Nuance says it's the first voice assistant with an SDK (Siri still doesn't have one), and Nina obviously has access to all of Nuance's data on the industries that use its tech: banks, airlines, hotels, retailers and more.

Nina is aimed at the enterprise, essentially taking the automated call center functions you might encounter when calling an 800 number, and putting it into an app.

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"Nina takes natural-language understanding, and it provides a way for a developer to add that into an app," says Robert Weideman, executive vice president of Nuance's enterprise division.

In a demo at Mashable's offices, Nuance reps showed us a mock banking app equipped with Nina. Responding to commands like "Pay my bill," or even "Pay the full balance on my Visa bill on August first," Nina performed tasks that would probably take complex navigation in one step.

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Nina is dependent on Nuance's Voice Assistant Cloud, so she won't work without a network connection. And as we discovered in the demo, her speed and ability to parse longer phrases depend on the quality of that connection. Using a Verizon 3G modem, Nina had trouble figuring out the longer bill-paying command above, but on Wi-Fi she executed it almost instantly.

Nina also happens to sound almost exactly like Siri, though Nuance says businesses will be able to choose from 40 different voices, and even be able to customize it with their own voice "persona," if they have one.

One of the major differences between Nina and Siri is voice biometrics, which means Nina can actually tell that it's you talking, and not someone who just picked up your phone. This can act as both a security and convenience feature -- after all, passwords become redundant if the app can tell it's the right person speaking just by voice.

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"For the first time on a mobile device, our virtual assistant doesn't just understand what you said and what you want, we can actually understand who said it," says Weideman.

Nuance is releasing the SDK for Nina today, and the company says the first crop of apps incorporating the service should arrive in the fall.

What apps would you like to see Nina built into? Share your ideas in the comments.

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