Some people took to texting on their mobile phones like concert pianists. Others, however, are all thumbs with their thumbs. For the latter group, there's a new generation of software and services that make use of a much more logical interface to control functions on your phone: the human voice.
These applications, from upstart companies including Jott Networks, Nuance and Vlingo, use spoken commands to handle an array of organizational tasks--from managing e-mail and voice mail to controlling calendars to capturing ideas while they're still top of mind. Several market research firms have described the next three years as a turning point for this sort of speech recognition technology. Opus Research, for one, believes the market for speech recognition capabilities in mobile devices will reach $239 million by 2011--a five-fold increase over 2006.
"The problem many people have using the applications on their mobile phones is the complexity," says John Pollard, co-founder and CEO of Jott Networks, which began testing a series of voice-controlled applications earlier this year. "This is being exacerbated by all the telecommuting people do and the fact that their personal and business lives are blurring. By using voice, they can keep their eyes on the world." One of Jott's applications, called Jott to Someone Else, lets you dictate a memo that can be delivered as both an e-mail and an audio file to yourself, someone else, a group or one of more than 40 web services. And this month, Jott will introduce a connection to Microsoft Outlook that lets you create an e-mail draft by talking to your cell phone; a similar link to the Google calendar program lets you create new entries through voice prompts.
Jott's service will be free for those who can tolerate advertisements. You will also be able to pay for ad-free service, but as of press time, pricing had not been set.
Vlingo is testing an application called Vlingo Find. This free local search and mapping service works with phones from carriers including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. You control your queries by speaking words into any text box that requires input. If you're a Sprint customer, you may already be using the most established of the new mobile speech recognition technologies, an application from Nuance called Voice Control. Currently used by several thousand people, Voice Control consists of 15 preset applications that are accessed by the push of a button and controlled by voice command. That includes specific types of internet searches for software information, weather forecasts, business locations, and directions; dictating e-mails; voice call dialing; and setting up appointments.
Michael Thompson, vice president and general manager of Nuance, says voice dialing is the feature Voice Control subscribers use most. Internet searches are next, followed by message dictation. The service, which costs $6 per month, works on smartphones including BlackBerry, Palm Treo and Windows Mobile devices. Thompson says his company is negotiating with additional carriers.
David Wolf, 26, founder and CEO of Syntryx Executive Solutions, a $3 million web advertising services company in Boulder, Colorado, learned firsthand about the value of speech recognition tools after injuring his right arm. Since Wolf works outside the country about 40 percent of the time and spends four or five hours a day on his cell phone, he needed a way to manage his voice mail and other messages. A friend recommended a voice-to-text tran-scription service from PhoneTag that he still uses today.
"I really swear by its convenience," Wolf says. "When we're using keyboards or interfaces based on keyboards, we're using obsolete input technology."