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Nokia declares war in US smartphone market
by Staff Writers
Las Vegas (AFP) Jan 10, 2012


Televisions getting Siri-style personal assistants
Las Vegas (AFP) Jan 10, 2012 - Startup Vlingo on Tuesday said that it is giving televisions the kind of voice-controlled "virtual assistants" that have been a hit with the latest version of Apple's hot-selling iPhone.

"If you are sitting on your couch you can just use your voice to control your TV, set-top box, cable-box or whatever," Vlingo's Chris Barnett told AFP as the Consumer Electronics Show got underway in Las Vegas.

"The TV will talk back to you in Virtual Assistant mode; ask what you want to see and drill down into what you are looking for," he continued, providing a demonstration. "It is like Apple's Siri, only for your TV, only better."

Apple built sassy Siri personal assistants into iPhone 4S models released in October.

Siri artificial intelligence software was derived from research conducted to make computers more intuitive at understanding and working with soldiers in action.

Siri understands context so people can speak naturally when asking it questions.

It helps make calls, send text messages or email, schedule meetings and reminders, make notes, find local businesses, and get directions. Siri will even perform mathematical calculations if asked.

Vlingo said its Virtual Assistant software lets people tell televisions what they want it to do or find.

Viewers could ask assistants to find shows with particular actors or in preferred genres, or tell televisions to record or rent specific films or television programs.

Microphones will be built into televisions or, more likely, remote controls to let Vlingo software listen to viewers, according to Barnett.

Some television makers are expected to let people chat with Vlingo virtual assistants using smartphone "apps" or build microphones into screens.

The software could also tap into microphones in accessories such as Kinect for Xbox 360 videogame consoles.

"The Vlingo Virtual Assistant for TV is designed to modernize that thing your grandfather once called a 'remote control'," Barnett said.

"Everyone deserves their own assistant and Vlingo will make this a reality on TVs this year."

Massachussetts-based Vlingo, which is being bought by speech recognition specialty firm Nuance, said that it has deals with major electronics makers to put the software into television hardware to be released this year.

It did not disclose names of companies, citing confidentiality agreements.

Nokia has declared war in the US smartphone market, with a Microsoft-powered handset tailored to take on Apple iPhones and Google-backed Android devices.

Microsoft chief executive Steven Ballmer joined Nokia boss Stephen Elop on Monday to unveil the new Lumia 900 smartphone, which will run on Windows mobile software and tap into a growing trove of popular mini-applications.

The two firms did not disclose the price or release date for the Lumia 900, but said it will be offered exclusively on the latest generation 4G LTE network of US telecom giant AT&T.

"We believe the industry has shifted from a battle of devices to a war of ecosystems," Elop said, in a presentation laden with martial metaphors.

"Clearly there are strong contenders on the field in this war of ecosystems," he told a room packed with press on the eve of the opening of the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a massive gadgets fair in Las Vegas.

The Finland-based Nokia in October introduced the Lumia line, which Elop described as the "first real Windows phones," which had established "beachheads" in Europe, India, and Hong Kong.

The company planned to start the US invasion on January 11 with a Lumia 710 model that will be priced at $49 when bought with T-Mobile service contracts.

"The work Nokia is doing around Windows phone and this third ecosystem is really going to pay off," Ballmer said, caressing a sleek Lumia 900 touchscreen handset.

"When you pick it up and love and touch and feel your Lumia," he said -- making a playful "mmmmm" sound that drew laughs -- "it really is quite fantastic."

Ballmer praised Nokia for getting the phones to market less than a year after striking a deal with Microsoft to use its mobile software and link to its online applications shop, which boasts a fast-growing bank of 50,000 apps.

"The reviews have been fantastic," Ballmer said of Windows-powered phones, which have been late-comers to a booming market increasingly dominated by Apple and Android handsets.

Lumia 900 has front and rear facing cameras with Carl Zeiss photo technology and 4.3-inch high-definition displays.

"I think Nokia is going to be back in the US in a very big way," AT&T president of mobility Ralph de la Vega said at a press conference.

"We are big fans of Windows phones."

Nokia showed off an array of applications made just for Lumia 900, including 20 videogames made by console industry colossus Electronic Arts.

Elop said Nokia planned to price Lumia 900 "aggressively" to establish a strong beachhead on the US smartphone battlefield. He said that Lumia would then land in China and Latin America to fight for market share.

"I am so happy that companies like Samsung, HTC and others are all introducing Windows devices," Elop said. "We all need to get that fly wheel spinning; our principle competition is the other ecosystems."

Nokia plans to eventually extend Windows across its full range of mobile phones and was working with Microsoft on getting mobile gadgets and computers to share pictures and other content using the Internet "cloud."

While declining to comment specifically on Research In Motion (RIM), Elop said that Nokia sees opportunity to compete in the business smartphone market, which has long been a stronghold for RIM's popular BlackBerry handset.

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