China’s leading speech and language technology provider iFlytek has launched a new Chinese-speaking voice assistant app called iFlytek YuDian (or “iFlytek Language Point”). Currently in beta, the app is available for Android smartphones and tablets since the end of last week. This launch comes after another company, Vlingo, launched a similar Android app, the Vlingo Virtual Assistant. Both speech-powered personal assistants have actually overtaken Google’s Voice Actions for Android and Apple’s Siri for iPhone in launching their respective services for Mandarin speakers.
iFlytek’s principal products are its Chinese Text-To-Speech (TTS) engine and related apps. Widely known as speech synthesis, this system involves an advanced technology of information processing in realizing human-machine speech communication. The primary function is converting text input into audible speech. iFlytek offers Chinese multilingual TTS services and and hardware to consumers, businesses and government organizations.
iFlytek CEO Liu Qingfeng demonstrated the app at a press conference in Beijing on March 22, and showed how the app could set up reminders, report the weather, make voice-activated phone calls, send text messages, find directions and find restaurants. iFlytek YuDian is also able to instruct users in pronouncing certain Chinese phrases in English, and stream preferred songs from the Internet using voice search.
The accuracy rate is around 90%, given the nature of Mandarin as having many like-sounding words having totally different meanings. ”There are only 400 monosyllabic sounds in Mandarin, which are differentiated by tone,” as Business Week puts it, asking whether speech recognition can work in Mandarin. Sometimes, the user will need to explain further so the app will understand what is actually being said.
Prior to the launch of iFlytek Yudian, the company has already offered a Chinese language voice-activated app for iOS devices for inputting text. Apart from the iOS app, iFlytek also has the Voice Input for Android platform that integrates speech, arbitrary handwriting recognition and keyboard entry within a single interface. With its latest 2.1.1133 version released last March 19, the app works on Android 1.5 up, and has already won accolades, such as the first prize at the AppSpace competition accompanying the Global Mobile Internet Conference 2011.
iFlytek shares the same vision as Apple has with Siri, in improving man-to-machine interfaces. With smartphones understanding and speaking human languages, technical barriers are brought down, and clunky keyboard-like interfaces rendered obsolete.
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