SAN JOSE – Amazon released a version of its Alexa speech-recognition service to let developers enable apps for voice. The Lex service comes at a time when chip vendors, including Conexant, NXP and QuickLogic, are hopeful multiple OEMs will start shipping Alexa-like devices this year with their chips.
The news marks the latest foray in a battle of cloud computing giants using machine learning to attract users. It came the same day Facebook was encouraging developers at its annual conference to use new augmented reality capabilities powered by machine learning.
Analysts say Google has an opportunity to marry its superior search service with its Google Assistant, a voice service currently only available on its Pixel smartphones and a new model from LG. Apple is a wild card here with its Siri, an early entrant in the field.
Amazon’s Lex handles speech recognition and natural language processing as a Web service. The company announced support from a handful of early preview users including a bank, an insurance company and a non-profit.
All three of South Korea’s telecom providers already offer voice assistants similar to Alexa based on their own voice servcies and a reference design from Conexant, including KT's GiGA Genie. “We expect to ship millions of units in Korea,” said Saleel Awsare, president of Conexant.
The company launched a reference design in December with software to link to the Alexa service. It already enables Microsoft’s Cortana on some Hewlett-Packard PCs and has had discussions with Google about its Assistant. “I believe in 2018 [voice assistants] will become the largest business for Conexant, said Awsare.
Conexant is working with a handful of OEMs for voice-enabled devices including a digital thermostat maker in Canada. Others want to add voice to set-top boxes, Wi-Fi extenders and even smart light bulbs, he said.
The company already sold nearly 500 of its voice developer kits at $299 each. It expects third-party products at or below the price of an Amazon Dot will hit the market this summer.
Amazon is believed to have sold as many as 7 million Alexa devices to date, mainly using audio chips from Texas Instruments. It claims it will enable 100 million systems for voice by 2020, largely through third-party products.
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