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Chinese tech players take aim at Apple's talking tech

Can the Speech Industry Alliance of China hurt Apple, Siri?

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Siri beware - a handful of major Chinese telecoms operators, handset manufacturers and other tech firms have joined up to form the Speech Industry Alliance of China (SIAC), a new group which will look at exploiting the growing domestic appetite for speech-based applications.

The not-for-profit includes founder members such as Lenovo, Huawei, the country’s three state-run mobile operators China Telecom, Unicom and Mobile and little-known speech tech firm Anhui USTC iFlytek.

Although not well-known outside China, Anhui USTC is a major developer of text-to-speech and speech recognition technology in the People’s Republic, and has a market share of 70 per cent, with over 5,000 partners, according to Digitimes.

Numerous firms including Lenovo and China Telecom have partnered up to integrate iFlytek’s voice recognition tech into their own products and services and an Android app is already available, although, strangely enough, the iOS version was delayed by Apple.

Other big names developing speech tech in China include search giant Baidu and ubiquitous web platform Tencent, while Huawei unveiled a voice assistant app with the domestic launch of its new Emotions UI in July.

All of which could make rather uncomfortable reading for Apple, which is set to launch Mandarin and Cantonese language versions of its much-hyped Siri digital assistant app for the Chinese market with the release of iOS6 later this year.

Early tests have shown that it is not quite yet fluent with multi-tone Oriental languages.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Apple is also facing two lawsuits over alleged patent infringement with Siri, one from Shanghai-based tech firm Zhizen and the other a Taiwanese university.

This kind of functionality is not yet a deal breaker for smartphone buyers but the launch of SIAC shows that the domestic China players certainly mean business. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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