More services are now using speech-recognition technology,
so a person’s voice can be used for more than just talking.
The number of text messages sent and received in the United States may surpass voice calls, but voice still is the main reason most people buy mobile phones. Still, technology and applications companies continue to find ways to use voice on a phone for things other than having conversations.
Google, which has had a voice application for business search for some time, recently expanded its voice platform with an application capable of using all of the company’s search functionality. The free service, which is location enabled, is only available so far as an application for Apple’s iPhone but is expected to be available for other smartphones in the future.
Google’s application is similar to Yahoo’s voice-activated oneSearch, which Nokia has started building into some of its Series 60 devices. The Yahoo! application also is available with Yahoo! Go 3.0 for some BlackBerry and Nokia phones.
Yahoo’s oneSearch was voice-enabled by Vlingo, which also has launched a free application for several Research In Motion (RIM) BlackBerry phones that lets users send e-mail and text messages, search the Web, open BlackBerry applications, dial, look up contacts and send notes to themselves.
Voice search also is the focus of TellMe, which was acquired by Microsoft. TellMe can be used with a call to a toll-free number, or with a downloaded phone application.
With these applications, users simply speak a search request into their phone and get a response listing search results. Voice search, however, just scratches the surface of what’s happening with voice applications.
SKIP THE LISTENING
Another one that some vendors have great hopes for is converting traditional voicemail into text or e-mail messages, so that people who can’t or don’t want to listen to their voicemail can get it delivered in a text format.
The speech-recognition company Nuance Communications announced its voicemail-to-text application earlier this year and is expected to have its first commercial customer in coming weeks. The first commercial customer is a North American cable operator, but several cellular operators also have been conducting trials of the application, according to Susan Wilson, director of business development for Nuance’s messaging services.
Nuance Voicemail to Text, like several other voice-to-text services, uses a combination of voice recognition software and humans to transcribe the voicemails and then send the text via e-mail or SMS. Nuance’s voice recognition uses its Dragon Naturally Speaking technology, supplemented by about 3,000 of its own transcriptionists.
Wilson said Nuance plans to completely automate the service in the future, with support for multiple dialects and languages. That could be available by mid-2009, she said.
“We’re seeing better results than we expected,” she said of tests being done with automation. She said Nuance expects most of the transcriptions to be automated, but that there always will be a reason to use a human, such as for peculiar accents or noisy situations.
Automation will bring down the costs to provide the service and also make the conversion of voicemail to text quicker.
Nuance Voicemail to Text is available initially for U.S. English only, but Wilson said there would be British English, some European languages and Australian English in 2009.
ENTERPRISE, SOCIAL NETWORKING
Although Nuance has aimed its services initially at operators, Wilson said the company also saw an opportunity to serve enterprises in the future. Nuance also has a product called VSuite used on handsets to convert text to speech and for hands-free control of phone functions. The company also has a prototype voice search platform.
PhoneTag, formerly called Simulscribe, also has a voicemail-to-text service. Where Nuance is working through carriers, PhoneTag has a subscription-based plan. The transcribed voicemails are sent either as an e-mail or SMS.
Yap, based in North Carolina, also offers a transcription service for cell phone users, but its service is aimed more at social networking. The company lets users send SMS messages to friends through Yap’s automated speech-to-text technology. Yap also can be used to post updates via SMS to Facebook and Twitter.
Jott has a similar service using speech-to-text conversion, with the ability to send updates to Facebook and Twitter. Jott also can be used to convert voice into text messages sent to e-mail addresses or to phones via SMS. Another feature of Jott is using it to send yourself notes or reminders.