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April 12, 2021updated 15 Apr 2021 10:20am

Hey Siri! Tell me whether Nuance is actually worth $19bn. You should know

By Eric Johansson

Microsoft is seemingly set to continue its acquisition spree, having added speech-recognition company Nuance Communications to the fold. The two have just announced that they have closed a $19.7bn deal.

Nuance is best known for having provided the speech recognition engine that powers Apple’s smart assistant Siri, although it predominantly makes its money from selling tools and transcribing speech in doctor’s visits, customer service calls and voicemails.

However, it’s unlikely that the potential acquisition of Nuance would mean a revival of Microsoft’s own smart assistant Cortana. The voice-controlled artificial intelligence assistant has long been on life support after failing to become as popular as Siri or Google Assistant. Now, Microsoft is slowly shutting down its life support. The latest move to that affect happened the other week when the tech company switched off the Cortana app for iOS and Android.

Rather than bringing Cortana back from the brink, it is more likely that Microsoft is viewing the deal as a way to boost its voice software capabilities elsewhere. It already offers transcription and voice-command services for its Bing search engine and its Teams app.

“Nuance provides the AI layer at the healthcare point of delivery and is a pioneer in the real-world application of enterprise AI,” said Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft. “AI is technology’s most important priority, and healthcare is its most urgent application. Together, with our partner ecosystem, we will put advanced AI solutions into the hands of professionals everywhere to drive better decision-making and create more meaningful connections, as we accelerate growth of Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare and Nuance.”

The deal has been in the works for some time, with Microsoft having first approached Nuance in December, according to a person familiar with the deal speaking with CNBC. The Redmond, Washington-headquartered tech titan has now publicly said that it bought Nuance for $56 per share for Nuance in an all-cash transaction valued at $19.7bn.

That makes it one of Microsoft’s biggest acquisitions to date, second only to its $26.2bn acquisition of LinkedIn in 2016.

More importantly, the potential deal would suggest that Microsoft is not finished growing via acquisitions yet. Looking at the GlobalData Technology Themes database, it is clear that the tech firm has been on a bit of a merger spree of late. The database lists several completed and rumoured deals.

In March its $7.5bn acquisition of the video game studio ZeniMax was approved by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the European Commission. Around the same time Microsoft completed its acquisition of the Marsden Group, an industrial technology innovation and rapid prototyping company. In 2020, it acquired Metaswitch Networks, Softomotive, CyberX, Orions Systems and Smash.gg.

The GlobalData Technology Themes database also highlighted that the company has been rumoured to acquire Discord, Sega and Pinterest in this year alone.

Nuance reported $7m in net income in the fourth quarter of 2020. Nuance was founded in 1992 and had 7,100 employees as of September last year.