NEW YORK (
) -- I used to work in the voice recognition industry. That was 11 years ago.
Back then, voice rec was often touted by many as the next big thing.
Guess what, it's still the next big thing.
There were some great people who worked in the industry. Mike McCue started Tellme which eventually got sold to
after raising a boatload of money from high-prestige Valley VCs. He's now the founder of popular private iPad reading company Flipboard. McCue is so admired; he's on the Twitter board.
Therefore, when I hear about how the Siri personal assistant is going to be integrated into the next version of the
iPhone 5, I'm excited as a user of the technology, but I would be cautious about running out to buy
just because it's in the voice rec space.
You need to recognize that the incredible bounce Nuance shares -- 10% in the last five trading sessions -- is all about iPhone 5. And you probably be positioning yourself for an inevitable pullback in Nuance shares after the iPhone 5 launch, rather than piling in.
Nuance is a huge industry roll-up. Back when I was in the industry, there were about a dozen speech recognition vendors (who built software to recognize people's voices). Today, there's basically one: Nuance. SpeechWorks, Nuance, and Lernout & Hauspie all got rolled up into one.
As that happened, Nuance got a lot of extraneous businesses. Like medical transcriptions. There's a big part of Nuance that just involves saving doctors' transcriptions and sending them to Bangladesh every night to be typed out.
So, when people get excited about Nuance stock today, it's usually because they assume that Apple will buy them. However, Apple likely doesn't want to be in the Bangladesh transcription business.
bought Nuance? It's possible. Google has been doing more and more in speech rec over the last few years and have hired a number of talented people from the industry. I suspect they feel they have enough good people in the area for what they need.
Microsoft also has been doing speech stuff for over a decade. It has its own speech rec technology.
I don't think Apple wants Nuance's baggage, so I expect the stock to swoon after the Siri iPhone 5 hubbub subsides after next week.
Nuance has some great people. Maybe if it unloaded some of its lower margin businesses (a la
with Qwikster), it would be an attractive take-out candidate. However, it's always hard turning your back on revenue today. For Nuance CEO Paul Ricci, this is doubly true. This guy's game plan is to just keep buying revenue and earnings and hope it keeps propping up his stock price so he can keep selling his shares.
It is possible that Siri could be such a game-changer that people start to get enormously excited about voice applications. This excitement will lead to apps, which will lead to more interest and revenue flowing into the space. That is possible if someone like Apple is getting behind the technology in a major way.
That was always the hope we had a decade ago. Unfortunately, it never happened.
If people really did get excited about speech rec, Nuance would get some attention as a take-out candidate -- despite its ancillary businesses.
I expect Nuance shares to drop after next week, followed by a rally starting two to three 3 months from now.
At the time of publication, Jackson was long Apple.
Eric Jackson is founder and president of Ironfire Capital and the general partner and investment manager of Ironfire Capital US Fund LP and Ironfire Capital International Fund, Ltd. You can follow Jackson on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ericjackson or @ericjackson