January 25, 2013, 4:52 PM

Amazon buys a text-to-speech software company

Ivona Software gives the e-retailer a piece of voice, a key mobile technology.

Bill Siwicki

Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce

Lead Photo

Ivona Software text-to-speech technology is used on the e-retailer's Kindle Fire tablet.

Amazon.com Inc. has acquired text-to-speech technology company Ivona Software. Ivona is the voice technology behind the “Text-to-Speech,” “Voice Guide” and “Explore by Touch” features on Kindle Fire tablets. The technology company’s text-to-speech products and services are used by thousands of developers and businesses around the world, says Amazon.com, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Mobile 400.

“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,” says Dave Limp, vice president, Amazon Kindle. “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.”

Ivona offers voice and language services with 44 voices in 17 languages and more in development, the company says.

Amazon would not elaborate on its reasons for acquiring Ivona. But analysts say it likely is related to Amazon’s increasingly intense competition with Apple Inc., Google Inc. and Barnes & Noble for the hearts and minds of mobile device buyers. The acquisition of Ivona gives Amazon one piece of a key technology for mobile devices, voice.

“Amazon is buying a supplier; they feel the need to control this aspect of their product directly,” says Avi Greengart, research director, consumer devices, at Current Analysis Inc., a mobile hardware and telecommunications research and consulting firm. “Is Amazon trying to build voice controls into the Kindle? I would certainly hope so—voice-driven controls are a part of Apple, Google and Microsoft platforms, so it would stand to reason that Amazon would want to remain competitive.”

But text-to-speech is only one piece in the voice technology puzzle, Greengart adds.

Amazon has found a technology it likes and is scooping it up, says Sucharita Mulpuru, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

“If they have a technology they are using and they like it,” Mulpuru says, “it’s sometimes cheaper to buy the company than to license from the company, and then bring all the smart people that work for that company in-house to be re-deployed to other projects.”

Along these lines, Amazon.com last year purchased fulfillment services provider Kiva Systems Inc . for approximately $775 million in cash. Kiva sells robotic warehouse technology that automates much of the fulfillment process. Kiva’s robots use special software that instructs them how to find ordered products on portable racks and bring them to warehouse pick-and-pack stations.

On Wednesday Amazon.com debuted a new service that enables consumers playing online video games to use their Amazon accounts to buy virtual goods, currencies, expansions for new levels or challenges, and other items. The feature, called “In-App Purchasing,” enables game developers to put those capabilities into games consumers play on the web, on their Apple Macintosh or PC, or on Android or Kindle Fire mobile devices.

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