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By Ingrid Lunden

Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) today announced that it is acquiring Ivona Software, a Polish-based specialist in voice technologies that competes with Nuance (NASDAQ:NUAN) and is already used in the Kindle Fire for services covering text-to-speech, voice commands, and "Explore by Touch." The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The move is significant for a couple of reasons. First, it shows that Amazon is looking to enhance its features and functionality on its devices, moving ever further away from pared-down, cheaper hardware to compete better against products like the iPad and higher-spec tablets from the likes of Samsung (OTC:SSNLF).

Second, it paves the way for Amazon to do more in hardware beyond tablets. Specifically, adding voice services points further to a mobile handset/smartphone, as many have suspected Amazon would eventually launch. No comment on a phone specifically in today's statements, but an intentionally vague reference to future products that is sure to send imaginations racing:

'IVONA's exceptional text-to-speech technology leads the industry in natural voice quality, accuracy and ease of use. IVONA is already instrumental in helping us deliver excellent accessibility features on Kindle Fire, including Text-to-Speech, Voice Guide and Explore by Touch,' said Dave Limp, vice president, Amazon Kindle, in a statement. 'The IVONA team shares our passion for innovation and customer obsession, and we look forward to building great products to deliver world-class voice solutions to customers around the world.'

Although Amazon's use of voice recognition today isn't as highlighted and center-stage as Siri is in Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS, it's nevertheless an important part of the company's business proposition, since a cornerstone of Amazon's content is based in reading and "reading" in different formats, like audiobooks. Here is what one of the voice features looks like currently on the Kindle Fire:

(click to enlarge)

Ivona's products, the company says, are already available for 44 voices in 17 languages "and more in development," which points to how Amazon can use the technology to underpin its international ambitions. Over the last year, the company has been ramping up products and Kindle stores for countries outside of the U.S., including finally launching the Kindle Fire tablets internationally.

What's still unclear is how Ivona's existing business will develop. We're contacting Ivona to ask the question and will update as we learn more, but currently Ivona works with other organizations and businesses to provide voice recognition, and it has also made a big push on growing its developer ecosystem. Unless Amazon decides to take Ivona in-house completely and use its tech exclusively in its own products, this presents a couple of opportunities.

It could see Amazon offering out the speech recognition capability in the form of an API, something that Apple has yet to do with Siri, for developers to use in their apps for the Kindle Fire and other platforms. (Amazon is doing a lot to court developers and continues to extend the ways in which to link them into its own platform.)

Ivona could potentially also get used by Amazon in its wider suite of enterprise, cloud-based services, which also includes hosting and other data management via Amazon Web Services.

An Amazon spokesperson had this to say, confirming that Ivona will continue to work with third parties, meaning that this provides another bridge out for Amazon both to enterprise cloud services as well as to developers, specifically in the area of voice recognition: "Yes -- IVONA will continue to provide voice solutions for our Kindle Fire tablets (text-to-speech, voice guide, explore-by-touch) and also continue to distribute their products and services to developers, businesses and customers around the world."

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Source: Amazon Gets Into Voice Recognition, Buys Ivona Software To Compete Against Apple's Siri