A Silicon Valley area startup known for its "Say Where" driving directions for the iPhone can now say a lot more in Arabic.
Alameda, Calif.-based Dial Directions was set to be acquired Tuesday by Arabic speech and language firm Sakhr Software. The merger will unite Sakhr's skills with the Arabic language and Dial's skills in voice-entry technology for mobile devices.
Dial says its "Say Where" provided the first speech-recognition application for the iPhone. Now, it likely will help provide potentially crucial Arabic translation services for U.S. military personnel serving in Iraq and elsewhere.
The merged firm will keep the Sakhr Software name, though Dial's chief executive, Adeeb Shanaa, will be CEO. The firm plans to soon launch what it says is the first real-time spoken Arabic and English translations for Apple (AAPL) iPhones and Research In Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry phones.
Initially, the company will target only U.S. government and corporate customers, though it also plans to move into the consumer market.
"Because of the geopolitical situation, there's a lot of interest in Arabic," said Shanaa, Dial's co-founder and now CEO of privately held Sakhr Software.
Sakhr already sells products to the U.S. departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice, as well as to corporate clients. It provides Arabic and English translations for computers.
Dial's speech-recognition technology will provide the missing link for what the companies say will be the first real-time Arabic voice translations on mobile devices.
Instead of typing or using a keypad, users merely press a button and talk into an iPhone or BlackBerry in English or Arabic. Within seconds, the Arabic or English translation comes back in spoken words and in English text or Arabic script.
The technology will make its way to at least some U.S. military personnel serving in Arabic-speaking nations such as Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Shanaa says.
A study several months ago by the House Armed Services Committee pointed out a dire need for foreign language capabilities in the Armed Forces. The study said only a small portion of today's military is proficient in any foreign language.
Since Sakhr's technology works on standard mobile networks "it can basically be leveraged by devices soldiers already have," Shanaa said.
IPhones and BlackBerrys are used by some military units.
The company plans eventually to make the application available on other types of mobile phones and to put out a consumer version. Other languages may follow.