August 27, 2012
Siri's Potential Influencing China Mobile to Buy Stake in Anhui USTC iFLYTEK Co., Ltd.
Reliable and effective speech recognition has been an elusive technology until Apple (News - Alert) introduced Siri and made it widely available. This didn’t go unnoticed by the largest mobile operator in the world, the state-owned China Mobile and the 650 million plus subscribers. According to Bloomberg it will be buying a 15 percent stake in Anhui USTC iFLYTEK Co., Ltd. for an estimated $214 million. China Mobile (News - Alert) is hoping the technology will be able to master the complexities of the Chinese language and compete effectively with Apple.
The recent announcement of Siri being able to speak and understand Chinese Mandarin, Taiwanese Mandarin and Cantonese has put more pressure on China Mobile. This acquisition could make Apple’s effort to get a bigger share of the Chinese mobile market more difficult because the iPhone (News - Alert) is only carried by two smaller companies in China.
Anhui’s core technology is speech synthesis for information processing to convert text data into voice. The company is primarily focused in the Chinese language but the multilingual text to speech (TTS) system Interphonic CE is also able to perform the same tasks in English. Combining both technologies along with distributed speech synthesis (DSS) for wireless data communication will make it possible to provide this service on different network bandwidths including GPRS, 3G and 4G.
China has more than 10 languages and hundreds of dialects and while the educational system, government and media use Chinese Mandarin as the official language, millions of people still use other languages and dialects to communicate. Considering the Chinese population, the people who will not have full access to this technology could number in the hundreds of millions.
Foreign companies have a difficult time penetrating the Chinese market and it becomes more difficult if your company is going to compete against a state owned giant. China Mobile controls more than 70 of the mobile subscribers in China and this large ownership is seen as one way the government keeps track of with who and how the people communicate. Critics of China’s policies can argue the implementation of TTS is just another tool the government will be able to use to monitor communications.
This partnership makes a lot of sense because both companies are leaders in their respected field in China. The collaboration will create new technologies and make the Chinese language available to a wider audience around the world increasing the cultural influence of China globally.
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Edited by Rachel Ramsey