IVONA takes the robotic voice out of Android’s speaking apps

by Brad Spirrison

While having apps that can shout out driving directions or read passages from a book are pretty standard, the robotic voice supplying that information no longer has to sound like the computer from War Games.

Through a combination of artificial intelligence and original voice talent, 10-year-old IVONA is a leader in developing conversational text-to-speech technology. The company’s new and free (for now) Android app brings a new voice to services like Google Navigation, Book Search and Handcent SMS.

In this edition of Meet the Makers, IVONA CEO Lukasz Osowski talks about the company’s head-to-head victories against IBM and Nuance, the challenges of converting PC-based technology into mobile applications and expansion into additional mobile platforms.

Appolicious: In 50 words or less, explain IVONA's underlying technology and how it helps consumers.

Lukasz Osowski: IVONA uses artificial intelligence algorithms and hours of recordings of original voice talent from the studio to articulate speech identical to that of a human voice. As a result, IVONA voices are clear and human sounding, as opposed to the voice by default built into the Android system.

APPO: How specifically will it work as apps on Android devices?

LO: Android users can download the IVONA app and install into it their device. After making a few changes within the settings, the IVONA voices become accessible and speaking apps, like Google Maps for reading directions aloud, or Book Speech, which reads e-books aloud, will be heard with IVONA voices. Also, IVONA voices can be used with services that read text messages aloud, which is important for safe driving. Ultimately, the user will have a better experience as they will be able to more clearly understand the voice.

APPO: The company is ten years old. What other forays have you had in mobile media?

LO: We are a technology company and have been in the business of researching and developing text to speech technologies that are significantly more sophisticated and advanced than some of the larger, well-known companies in our space, including IBM, ATT and Nuance. We focus exclusively on providing the highest quality text-to-speech and plan to roll out new services and applications across additional mobile operating platforms.

APPO: Are there plans to develop applications for iOS and other primary mobile operating systems (Windows, BlackBerry, etc.)

LO: Yes, we will have announcements to make along these lines in the coming weeks and months.

APPO: Describe the challenges and opportunities that exist developing app that can be downloaded to dozens of devices available on multiple carriers?

LO: Android devices are much less powerful then PCs. So the main challenge for us is transferring the world's most sophisticated text-to-speech technology to those devices. But voice in mobile device is becoming a “must have” feature and we are providing to Android users a quality that is light years ahead of the default Android voice

APPO: Any plans to develop Honeycomb and tablet-specific applications?

LO: IVONA voices today work on tablets exactly as they do on non-tablet devices, so we do not have to do any special development in that area.

APPO: Who do you consider to be your primary competition?

LO: Nuance is probably our primary competition right now. It is worth noting that IVONA was recently recent tested against a number of some of the biggest companies in the world, like IBM, Microsoft, Nuance and others in a text-to-speech accuracy study and the results showed our service to be the most accurate.

APPO: What are the three biggest things in the mobile media space that keep you up at night and why?

LO: It’s probably the reality that mobile continues to grow so fast with new smartphones and tablets launched seemingly every day. Text to speech has emerged as a critical feature within mobile which means there’s a tremendous opportunity for IVONA. We are working hard to capitalize on this opportunity and ensure that anyone, anywhere can access an IVONA voice through whatever mobile device they are using.