Facebook wants to build out its voice-recognition technology.
The social network has acquired Mobile Technologies, which builds speech-recognition and machine translation software. The acquired company’s team will join Facebook’s engineers in Menlo Park, California. Terms of the deal went undisclosed.
“Voice technology has become an increasingly important way for people to navigate mobile devices and the web, and this technology will help us evolve our products to match that evolution,” Tom Stocky, director of product management at Facebook, wrote in a note posted on his Facebook wall. “We believe this acquisition is an investment in our long-term product roadmap as we continue towards our company’s mission.”
Facebook is clearly attempting to capitalize on growing interest in voice as a way to interact with software. Its archrival Google is betting heavily on apps such as Google Now, which leverages a natural-language user interface to answer vocal queries, send emails, navigate from Point A to B, post to the Google+ social network, and more. Apple has Siri, which an iOS user can also verbally direct to perform tasks.
Added vocal capability would play directly into Facebook’s plans for mobile, which it regards as an all-important segment—not only for the revenue generated from mobile ads, but also because people are beginning to spend more time on their smartphones and tablets than on their PCs. In theory, Facebook users could rely on voice to post on their respective walls, leave messages for friends, schedule events, activate apps, and much more.
In fact, voice recognition could help improve Facebook Home, optional software that layers Android smartphones and tablets with a custom start screen and various Facebook apps. Home never really caught on—within weeks of its release earlier this year, it faced dipping install rates and thousands of one-star reviews on the Google Play app store—but it could serve as the foundation of a new set of services. Picture a version of Facebook Home that borrows liberally from Google Now and similar initiatives, and welds its users’ disparate social data into a single über-platform with a broad range of voice-activated functionality—say “Take me to [friend’s] house” and receive directions, for example, or “Tell me which events I have today” and have a calendar pop up.
Such functionality could greatly increase the “stickiness” of Facebook on mobile devices, revive Home as a viable product, and boost ad revenues by keeping more eyeballs fixed on the social network for longer periods of time. But whatever Facebook actually decides to do with the technology, it’s clearly joining in a broader movement toward voice.