AT&T has launched one of the more innovative services to come through its developer program: Muuzii's translation service that uses SMS-based text and audio to break down the language barrier.
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is exclusively offering the service with a monthly subscription, although Muuzii is currently offering a free 14-day trial during the soccer World Cup. The startup's CMO, Cindy Davis, says it will soon be available across other operators in the US through a third-party aggregator.
The service made its way out of AT&T's Developer Program back in December in a soft launch, but Muuzii CEO Eric Fang says today marks the official launch of the new and improved service. Interestingly, Fang says the carrier's developer program was great to work with, but that it took two years to work through the traditional channels at AT&T to get up and running. (See AT&T Opens New Innovation Labs.)
"They were easy to work with but took a long time to get on their network," Fang said. "AT&T was also looking at other products, and, internally, they had to go through the whole exercise of evaluating businesses and consumer drive. The most important thing is if you are looking at our services, we generate revenues and help carriers generate revenue as well."
AT&T takes a cut of the subscription service Muuzii offers, ranging from $2.99 to $4.99 per month, and takes care of the billing process.
There are many translation apps on the market, but what makes Muuzii unique -- besides that it has the backing of a major operator -- is that it uses the phone's native texting app for translations. After a few clicks to sign up, AT&T customers can simply text what they want translated and receive an immediate response.
Or, if they subscribe to learn a new language, they can text phrases in Spanish, Chinese or English and hear them translated back through Muuzii's text-to-voice technology.
Fang said the company has been working on its translation algorithm for five years and uses a patented combination of artificial intelligence, a learning engine, and human translators to ensure the accuracy. While Muuzii Learn is marketed as a way to learn another language, it'd also be useful in another country or anywhere there is a language barrier.
Muuzii, translated to mean a Chinese expression of approval akin to a "thumbs up," could easily have been developed as an over-the-top app, but Feng has a 25-year history in the telecom industry and saw a desire amongst operators to offer value-added services on a ubiquitous platform such as SMS. The company sees its service as a way to help them go beyond smartphones and data plans to reach all mobile users.
"When we issued this in 2007, there were no smartphones... the fundamentals were that the broadest reach was most important," Feng says.
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading