Apple's (News - Alert) Siri may be one of the most popular and widely-used beta apps ever, sufficiently so that more than a few imitators have shown up. But recently, USAA out of San Antonio, Texas, became the first financial services firm to offer a virtual assistant, complete with Siri-style speech recognition systems, to add to its mobile app systems.
Dubbed Nina, it will be getting a pilot program starting this month, and eventually a full launch early next year.
Nina owes a large part of its creation to Nuance Communications (News - Alert), the folks behind the popular Dragon Naturally Speaking line of products that convert speech into text. As such, it's not surprising to see that Nina can not only offer speech recognition, but also text-to-speech capability, voice biometrics analysis and Natural Language Understanding systems that are cloud-hosted for easier use.
This combination of factors helps ensure that not only can Nina tell what is being said to it, but also who is saying it. Nuance even claims there will be an open software development kit, further distinguishing it from Siri and allowing for other mobile applications to get that virtual assistant capability.
The use of the virtual assistant, according to USAA's assistant vice president for emerging channels, Neff Hudson, is designed as a way to help provide better, faster service for their military service members, who of course need access to their accounts at what are often unusual hours.
Plus, the virtual assistant provides extra help for those members who often find themselves attending to their banking business well after normal business hours.
Bringing virtual assistant-style help to other mobile applications would no doubt be welcome for a lot of people, and likely has Apple very concerned. Siri’s functions would essentially be co-opted across the array of apps online, and its only real advantage would be its consolidated nature.
That may not be as much of a selling point as Siri currently is, however, especially since people who have already come to use, enjoy and rely on certain apps will likely continue to use them, especially with the augmentation of Siri-style functionality.
Just how much Nina and her eventual cohorts will destabilize the app market remains to be seen, but it could make for a very interesting field overall in the coming months.
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Edited by Braden Becker