Speech to Be the Catalyst for Mobile Web Innovation

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Citing statistics of mobile Web adoption rates, Vlad Sejnoha, chief scientist at Nuance Communications, presented a case, or challenge, for the rapid, cutting-edge development of speech-enabled applications for mobile services.

Focusing specifically on local search and Web applications, Sejnoha laid out a roadmap of what needs to happen for Nuance’s mobile vision to be achieved. And though he spoke under the theme, "Speech is the Catalyst," his presentation also equally weighted the ever-changing needs of end-users. "As we plan the next generation, we are increasingly aware that we are catering to users whose expectations are changing, "he said.

But, he stated, no speech-powered mobile applications can come to full fruition and achieve wide adoption without innovation. Though cell phone penetration has reached 80 percent, with 80 percent of those devices being Web-enabled, Sejnoha said the mobile Web is "lagging" compared to that of the general Web. "A lot of what’s available from mobile is not usable," he said.  

Because the mobile Web is still fragmented – users must complete a variety of steps to reach their destination – many consumers prefer not to use it, demanding faster results.

Sejnoha presented his version of how speech applications could boost mobile Web user adoption rates; speech, he says, is the answer to a consumer who wants fast, easy Internet access. In a video produced by Nuance, two people walk through a city trying to pick a restaurant for lunch. One user takes out his iPhone, requests information and reviews of a restaurant from Yelp.com using voice commands, and reads through the information. Afterward, he dictates his own review of the restaurant to his iPhone, with Nuance technology providing the transcription. Though not possible today, Sejnoha says this future will, "become prevalent not too many years from now."

He also urged honesty about certain mobile Web applications, saying that consumers may outgrow some applications, but the programs which remain popular will require continuous innovation to remain relevant. Further, for applications to gain an edge over competing products, consumers will demand more accurate automatic speech recognition (ASR and the ability to search for a topic with more search words. This, he says, is another avenue for speech penetration into the mobile arena.

"Mobile search has the promise of becoming the same gateway to the Web as desktops, but is hindered by the difficulty of text entry," he states. "Given freedom, people want to describe their problems or searches more precisely than a couple of keywords." The ability to perform more text-heavy operations is where speech recognition and transcription plays a vital role.

Of course, without quick responses, Sejnoha admits mobile Web adoption will not succeed. The remedy to the solution, he said, is natural language, and the ability to extract meaning from utterances. "You might be interacting with a number of services, but might not know what they are," he states. "Natural language lets you implicitly request the service."

And though speech-enabled applications in mobile phones such as the iPhone have yet to be realized, Sejnoha remains confident in speech’s ability to enter the market and create a significant customer demand. "Maybe our aspirations are more high-reaching," he says. "Just like the Web really benefited from general search, we think that the mobile Web is poised for transformation technology, and we think speech has the potential for being that catalyst."

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