Last night Nuance Communications took the wraps off Nina, a virtual assistant for enterprise mobile customer service apps. The comparisons to Siri are immediate and obvious. However Nina doesn't directly compete with Siri; it's not a consumer app. Rather Nina extends Siri-like "conversational" interactions to enterprise mobile apps -- in the hope and expectation of delivering better customer care experiences.
Dan Miller has written up the announcement and what it means for mobile customer service on the Opus Research blog. The first announced enterprise to take advantage of Nina is bank USAA (launching next year). Nuance is offering a developer SDK and APIs and is enabling customization, extending to the persona/voices. Consequently one enterprise's version of Nina can look and sound very different than other's.
For purposes of this post, however, I want to focus more narrowly on one piece of the Nina experience: password voice authentication. This is unlikely to draw much coverage and will be overshadowed by the Siri comparisons and discussion.
Password voice authentication for mobile devices is a technology that has existed for some time. But there's no mainstream implementation of this capability really until now. There's also beta product called Kivox, available for Android handsets but not through the Google Play or Amazon markets. It has to be downloaded directly in a convoluted process that will elude mainstream users.
It's very painful to enter passwords manually (password and username) on a smartphone. And it has to be done again and again. While Safari and Chrome offer to remember passwords that doesn't always work. By contrast voice biometrics for password entry is an elegant solution to the small screen problem. It could also eliminate the need to create conventional passwords entirely. There would be nothing or very little to remember or write down. You'd just speak your "passphrase."
The voice authentication capability is actually part of a separate module that Nuance offers. It can be integrated into apps without the full Nina integration. I'm not an expert on voice biometrics -- Opus' Dan Miller is the leading expert on voice biometrics and chairs the VoiceBioCon event -- but this is the part of the Nina announcement that I was most excited about.
Assuming it works well, it relieves a major headache for me in dealing with passwords on mobile sites and smartphone apps. While Nina will undoubtedly be widely adopted and successful, voice authentication has the potential to be equally transformative of the user experience. So would voice-initiated payments and transactions, but that's entirely different post.
Below is a video showing a demo of Nina.