Chinese firm launches Android voice assistant for Mandarin speakers

Chinese company iFlytek specializes in voice-recognition and language technology

As Apple works to bring the Chinese language to its Siri software for the iPhone, a Chinese tech firm has announced its own voice assistant app for Mandarin speakers with Android phones.

Voice-recognition and language technology company iFlytek made its "iFlytek Language Point" software available in a beta version for Android phones on Thursday.

Another company, Vlingo, offers a version of its Android Vlingo Virtual Assistant for Chinese speakers; Google Voice Actions for Android does not yet appear to be available in Chinese.

During a Thursday launch event, CEO Liu Qingfeng demoed iFlytek Language Point, speaking to the app in Chinese and showing that it could set up reminders, find restaurants and report the weather. The app can also instruct users how to say certain Chinese phrases in English, and stream selected songs from the Internet using a voice search.

iFlytek's website for the app shows many other additional functions, including making voice-activated phone calls, sending text messages, and finding directions. The software, however, doesn't always answer requests accurately. During the demo, Liu asked the app in Chinese how to say "How much is a hamburger?" in English, but the software replied by defining what a hamburger is.

After the demo, former Google China head and now business incubator leader Kai-Fu Lee said to an audience he expected iFlytek's newest product to perform well in the market, even as more efforts need to be made in improving voice-recognition software.

Before Thursday's launch, iFlytek had already offered a Chinese language voice-activated mobile app to input text. The company has 30 million users of its products. Last week, iFlytek also signed a cooperative agreement with mobile operator China Unicom, which has 205 million mobile users, to work together in voice-activated technologies.

Apple has said the company will make Siri support the Chinese language some time this year. China is expected to become the largest smartphone market in 2012, according to research firm IDC.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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