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Amazon acquires text-to-speech firm Ivona to rival Apple's Siri

Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) has acquired text-to-speech technology firm Ivona Software, which powers accessibility features optimized for its Kindle Fire tablets. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Ivona, founded in 2001, offers speech synthesis solutions spanning 44 voices in 17 languages, with more in development. Its technologies are integrated into Kindle Fire features including Text-to-Speech, Voice Guide and Explore by Touch, as well as a host of accessibility, public announcement/transportation, telecommunications and e-learning services.

Amazon said it will work with Ivona to build new voice solutions and products but did not divulge any concrete details. The digital retail giant most likely will leverage the Inova portfolio to add new and enhanced voice recognition capabilities to Kindle tablets and e-readers on par with Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Siri voice assistant technology, which applies search algorithms to translate verbal commands and perform device tasks. Apple first integrated Siri into its iPhone 4S in late 2011.

The Ivona deal also seems likely to reignite rumors that Amazon is building its own smartphone. In mid-2012, Bloomberg reported Amazon is working with Chinese manufacturer Foxconn International to build the device, adding Amazon has been assembling a portfolio of patents covering wireless technologies to fend off potential allegations of infringement. In a subsequent interview with AllThingsD, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos declined to address the smartphone rumors but indicated more devices are on the way.

"We will certainly--not any time soon--but next year," Bezos said last fall when asked about the company's device pipeline. "We have some more things that we hope people will enjoy. It's premature for me to talk about them."

A smartphone fits squarely within Amazon's larger vision for digital media dominance. Unlike Apple, which relies on content from its iTunes digital media storefront and App Store to boost sales of hardware like the iPhone and iPad--and unlike Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), which looks to Android to fuel revenues derived from its core advertising and search services--Amazon depends on affordable hardware to drive sales of e-books, music, movies and related content offerings. A low-cost Amazon phone with Siri-like functionality could be a major hit with consumers.

Last week, Amazon mounted a new challenge to Apple's iTunes by introducing a version of its MP3 Store optimized for iOS devices. The HTML5-based Amazon MP3 Store enables iOS device owners to discover and purchase DRM-free digital music via the Safari browser. In addition to a catalog encompassing 22 million songs, the storefront offers signature Amazon features like personalized recommendations, bestseller lists and customer ratings.
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