Charlotte-based CLT Blog connected the dots and found that Amazon has purchased a speech recognition startup called Yap, according to an SEC filing. While neither company has made a formal announcement - and the filing doesn't even mention Amazon by name - it says that Yap merged with a company called "Dion Acquisition Sub," which has the same address as an Amazon building.

With the Kindle Fire about to hit stores, it's tempting to compare this acquisition to Apple's purchase of Siri. But is that a fair comparison? Yap transcribed voicemail. Siri was based on a DARPA-funded military artificial intelligence project. With some consumers hesitating between the iPad and the Kindle Fire, there's bound to be a feature race. But speech-to-text input is one thing. The AI-powered future of search is another.

Jobs: Siri Was "An AI Company"

Yap is an advanced speech recognition company with "IP in every iPhone and Android device," as co-founder Igor Jablokov told CLT Blog. But its consumer product - discontinued last month - was a voicemail-to-text service. Siri, as Steve Jobs said after the acquisition, was "an AI company." Technology onboard a device is the way to turn sounds into text input. But Siri does much more than that for iPhone 4S users. It talks to Apple servers and searches the Web for answers.

Voice as the user interface is the new frontier. Taking voice input and reliably turning it into text isn't brand new, though. Google's iPhone app had it in 2008, and now it's all over Google's Web properties, even on the desktop. But voice-to-text search is just a new interface for the same old input.

Siri goes far beyond that. It uses AI to understand your question and create its own input. The results are sometimes goofy, but Siri is in beta, and Apple doesn't ship public betas lightly. Siri still has a lot to learn, but that's the point. Siri can learn.

Siri Is A Web Service

Jobs made clear that the AI was his main interest in Siri. The other half of that answer, though, was that Siri was "not a search company." But now that seems like a smokescreen. Apple may have bought Siri for the AI, but it's certainly using it for search now.

Currently, Google is the search company in most cases, but Apple deliberately partnered with Yelp to bypass Google in local business searches, one of Google's key areas. Meanwhile, Apple is buying 3D mapping companies and clearly looking for ways around Google Maps. Eric Schmidt himself has publicly recognized Siri as a threat.

While Siri is only on the iPhone 4S so far, voice as an input method is part of iOS now. Neither Apple nor Amazon has revealed plans for voice as a tablet interface, but they're both buying into voice recognition. But while Siri is useful for transcribing text, Apple already positions it as a Web service, too. When it comes to cloud-backed intelligence in a voice interface, Siri and Yap cannot be compared.

Voice Is Just An Interface

The Kindle Fire doesn't even have a microphone yet, and the iPad 2 doesn't have Siri yet, either. But when consumers try to decide whether to buy a future iPad or a Kindle Fire, voice as an input method is going to matter. It comes down to the question of what consumers are going to do with their devices.

A recent survey found that 26% of likely Fire buyers are delaying purchase of an iPad. Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble has introduced a new Nook Tablet to compete with the Fire. But those devices are aimed for consuming media. Their marketing reflects that.

Voice input on a Kindle Fire (once it has a microphone) would undoubtedly make it easier to find the movie you're looking for. But a Fire with no 3G isn't going to help much if you're out looking for directions in a new city. But asking Siri "Where is the museum?" on a 3G iPad with Siri - and 3D mapping technology - would do the trick.

Reliable voice input is the next step for interfacing with small devices, and Amazon is wise to be building it in. But Yap is just voice as a feature. Siri, fully realized, is an AI assistant. Just like the Kindle Fire and the iPad, these are different tools for different jobs.

Lead image credit: CLT Blog

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