Nuance Acquires Jott

7/14/09Follow @wroush

Nuance Communications (NASDAQ: NUAN), the Burlington, MA-based voice technology juggernaut that has already absorbed most of its East Coast competitors, reached west today, announcing that it has acquired Seattle-based Jott.

Jott, founded in 2006 by ex-Microsoft employees, started out as a free voice-to-text service that allowed users to record messages via telephone that were then transcribed into e-mails. Over time, the company transitioned to a paid business model, and expanded the capabilities of its service to let users create text messages, blog posts, appointments, reminders, and notes. The service has proved popular among mobile professionals, gaining hundreds of thousands of users, according to the company.

Nuance’s acquisition of Jott gives it a credible product in the area of phone-based voice-to-text services, where other companies such as Google, with its Google Voice service, and UK-based Spinvox have begun to encroach.

“Jott’s voice-to-text offerings have experienced a groundswell of adoption and positive industry recognition since the company’s inception, and we’re thrilled about the opportunity to expand our market reach and our voice services portfolio,” Nuance senior vice president Michael Thompson said in an announcement. “Together we will deliver a range of new services to our mobile operator and enterprise customers.”

Nuance isn’t saying how much it shelled out for Jott. The startup was funded by Bain Capital Ventures, Draper Richards, Ackerley Partners, and UK-based Atomico Investments; its last publicly divulged funding round, in 2007, amounted to $5.4 million. Jott may have needed a larger partner like Nuance in order to compete in its sector, given that competitor Spinvox, with some $200 million in venture cash, had far outpaced it in fundraising efforts.

Nuance and Jott said that Jott’s services, including Jott Assistant, Jott Voicemail, and Jott for Salesforce, will keep working as usual, with no interruptions in service. But as a result of the acquisition, Jott-like capabilities may come to many more consumers—Nuance says it plans to package Jott Assistant as part of the voice services it provides to wireless operators.

“Our combined expertise will bring innovative and differentiated voice services to a variety of markets with tremendous scale,” Jott co-founder John Pollard said in a statement.

One area where Nuance’s technology may help Jott is in automated speech-to-text software. While the basic user interface that Jott users encounter when they call the service is driven by speech recognition software, users’ recordings are actually transcribed by humans working in large processing centers. Replacing those humans with advanced speech-to-text software, similar to Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking line of dictation software, would be an obvious way to make Jott’s service more efficient and scalable.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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