Report: Amazon acquires Siri clone Evi for $26M, rekindling smartphone buzz
Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) reportedly has acquired voice recognition technology startup Evi. Sources told TechCrunch the deal is valued at $26 million.
The Evi search application, available for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, responds to voice and text queries with spoken answers delivered in plain English. Users may also schedule events, make calls, and send texts and emails. The Evi app is extremely similar in concept and scope to Apple's own Siri voice assistant technology--so much so, in fact, that rumors once indicated Apple planned to remove Evi from its App Store, a decision that never came to pass.
Neither Amazon nor Evi responded to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Evi investor Octopus Ventures said "On this occasion Octopus will decline to comment on this specific portfolio company." TechCrunch notes that Octopus' most recent annual report refer to disposing its shares in Evi, and that numerous public records also point to Amazon taking over Evi's business.
The Evi deal follows less than three months after Amazon acquired text-to-speech technology firm Ivona Software, which powered accessibility features optimized for the online retail giant's Kindle Fire tablets. At that time, Amazon said it would work with Ivona to build new voice solutions and products but did not divulge any concrete details.
While the respective Evi and Ivona portfolios could allow Amazon to add new and enhanced voice recognition capabilities to Kindle tablets and e-readers on par with Siri, some observers believe the latest deal further bolsters speculation that Amazon is building its own Kindle smartphone. Rumors of an Amazon phone have circulated for months: Citing sources with knowledge of the matter, Bloomberg reported in July 2012 that Amazon tapped Foxconn to develop the device, adding the digital retailer has assembled a portfolio of patents covering wireless technologies to fend off potential allegations of infringement. A subsequent Verge report added the phone will run the same forked Android variant powering the Kindle Fire.
Last month, DigiTimes reported Foxconn is conducting engineering verification tests on the Kindle phone but the process has experienced a series of speed bumps. While Amazon originally planned to complete testing during the current quarter and begin manufacturing early in the second quarter, Foxconn's Ensky Tech subsidiary is now unlikely to enter mass production until June, delaying a commercial rollout until at least the third quarter of 2013.
A smartphone fits squarely within Amazon's larger vision for digital media supremacy. Unlike Apple, which relies on content from its iTunes digital media storefront and App Store to boost sales of hardware like the iPhone and iPad--and unlike Google, which looks to Android to fuel revenues derived from its core advertising and search services--Amazon depends on affordable hardware to drive sales of e-books, music, movies and related content offerings. Its digital media revenues totaled $6.51 billion during the fourth quarter of 2012, up 8 percent year-over-year, and for the second year in a row, the Kindle Fire HD tablet was the company's best-selling and most-gifted item.
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has strongly hinted Amazon plans to launch additional devices. Speaking to television interviewer Charlie Rose last November, Bezos joked "I agree that there are a bunch of rumors that we might do a phone." After Rose said "Of course, that answer leads us to believe that you are going to do it. You're just waiting for the right opportunity," a laughing Bezos responded "Well, you'll just have to wait and see."
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