Wozniak Sets Blogs Atwitter with Apple-Nuance Remark

[Updated, see below] Proving that he has the power to move markets with an odd aside, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak sparked rumors this week that Apple is buying Nuance Communications (NASDAQ: NUAN), the giant Burlington, MA-based maker of speech recognition software.

The source of the speculation is a passing remark in a video interview about the future of the Apple iPhone between Wozniak and TVDeck.com founder Romil Patel (see below, at about the 0:45 mark). “I think voice recognition is going to become more and more a big part of these machines,” Wozniak says in the video. “Apple is probably thinking the same way. They recently bought the company Nuance, that does a lot of really great voice recognition for that program I just described, Siri Assistant.”

That was enough to set off the blog 9to5Mac headline “Whoa! Did Apple buy Voice Recognition company Nuance?,” a meme which quickly spread to mocoNews, MobileBeat, and TechCrunch.

Neither Nuance nor Apple have issued official statements about the rumors, and Nuance makes no mention of acquisition discussions with Apple in its quarterly report, issued yesterday. However, Mass High Tech is reporting today that it received e-mail from Nuance spokesman Richard Mack calling Wozniak’s statement “speculation.”

Several commentators conclude that Wozniak’s remark is a misstatement born of confusion over the Siri iPhone app, a voice-driven personal assistant that can make restaurant reservations, book concert tickets, look up weather forecasts, and the like. Apple did acquire Siri, the maker of app, in April 2010. And the voice recognition software used in the app is licensed from Nuance.

Nuance is valued at about $5.3 billion, so Apple, which has more than $51 billion in the bank, could easily afford to snap up the company if it wanted to. But such an acquisition would be unusual for Apple, particularly given that Nuance’s speech recognition products are in such widespread use within businesses and on Windows computers, markets that Apple has traditionally shunned.

Nuance shares were up as much as 12 percent on the rumors today, the stock’s largest intraday gain since April 2009, according to Bloomberg News. As this article went to press, Nuance was trading at $18.16, up about 6 percent.

Update, 6:25 pm PST 11/23/10: Reuters is reporting that Wozniak has acknowledged that he misspoke. “I thought I’d read about it but obviously got it all wrong,” Wozniak told the news service in an e-mail.

Here’s the video that started the whole hullabaloo:

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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