Nuance takes Siri down to the app level with new voice assistant

Nuance Communications(s nuan) has been speech-activating anything with a user interface lately, from TVs to cars. It’s newest speech recognition product, however, isn’t voice enabling a device, but a whole category of mobile apps, making it easier to perform complex multi-step tasks with simple spoken commands.

Called Nina, the new virtual assistant software is targeted at the growing number of customer service apps companies are stockpiling in the iTunes(s appl) and Google Play(s goog) stores with a particular focus on mobile banking apps. According to Nuance VP and GM Robert Gary, customer-facing mobile apps have become increasingly complex which makes navigating the multiple layers of options available all the more difficult.

Nina aims to cut through that clutter, allowing a user to perform thousands of different tasks within a customer care app by simply stating what he wants to do, Gary said. For instance a simple credit card payment could require a dozen different actions on a mobile app: navigating to the payments section, selecting the card receiving payment and the account the transfer comes from, entering the date of the transaction and finally amount being paid.

Nina can reduce all of those steps down to a single simple command: “Pay $300 to my gold card from my checking account.” Nuance’s speech servers not only understand the words, but also mines them for as much information and context as possible. Whatever additional information Nina needs, it prompts the user with spoken follow-up questions. So in the example above, Nina would immediately navigate to the appropriate payment screen and populate the fields for a $300 transfer from the customer’s checking account to his gold card. Nina would only need to ask the customer whether he wanted to make the payment immediately or schedule it for a future date.

Nuance is offering Nina to customers as a white-label service they can customize and embed into their applications. In the demo I saw, Nina’s voice was that of Siri – Apple licenses the Siri’s audio library from Nuance – but Nuance has library of 40 different voices it plans to offer to developers so everyone doesn’t wind up with the same Siri clone. Enterprise customers can hire their own voice “talent” to further differentiate their virtual assistants from the field.

Nina’s first customer will be USAA, the financial services provider of the U.S. military. It plans to launch the voice assistant as part of pilot within its mobile banking app this month and then offer it to all of its members by early next year.