Dan Roth, CEO, Voice Signal Technologies
Q What has happened with Voice Signal Technologies over the past twelve months? Where do you see the company twelve months from now?
A The last 12 months have produced truly outstanding results for Voice Signal Technologies, both from a product and a business perspective. On the business side, we announced our first worldwide strategic relationship, a partnership with Samsung Electronics. Moreover, the Samsung A500 phone uses our technology, and is already out in the market and performing extremely well. In addition to Samsung, we are also working with several other major mobile phone manufacturers, and we will be making announcements about these activities shortly. Our very small vocabulary recognizer has also been integrated into several products from the two largest toy companies, Hasbro and Mattel.
On the product development side, we have continued to push the envelope for small footprint embedded speech recognition. We were one of the first companies to successfully introduce Speaker Independent Continuous Digit Dialing and Speaker Independent Command and Control, or Menu Navigation, on a phone. In addition, we are about to launch a new Speaker Independent Name Dialing application with our own Text-to-Speech engine, and we are about to launch Dictation (Speech-to-Text) on a handset. In addition to these product breakthroughs, we have ported our speech recognition solutions to a number of platforms, including Qualcom's CDMA platform, Motorola's TDMA, TI's OMAP, ADI's MSP 430 and Intel's Xscale, as well as to a number of operating systems including Microsoft's Stinger OS, the Symbian OS, and Nokia's Series 60 UI. We also offer a global language portfolio that is constantly growing.
I guarantee that next year will bring even more progress on several fronts.
Q Voice Signal is a privately held company and it is tough to get funding in this environment for most companies. What are you doing to preserve the business in these challenging times?
A We are fortunate that this has not been a problem for us. We have a very tight focus, and even though, by industry standards, we have a relatively large speech group, we have kept our organization lean, so that from an operations perspective we are able to maintain tight controls over our overhead and costs. In addition to maintaining focus and tight financial controls, we have been able to develop significant revenue producing relationships with leading companies in both the wireless and the electronic entertainment industries.
Q Where do you see the embedded speech technology market headed? Please provide statistics to support your thoughts.
A We believe that almost every portable electronic device, including phones, handheld computers and MP3 players, will need a speech interface. We believe this because the direction for almost all these devices involves the melding of smaller form factors with greater functionality. The result of this intersection of capabilities is that the traditional display and button interface is more and more constrained. From Voice Signal's perspective, the solution to this constrained interface will be a more robust multimodal interface, in which embedded speech recognition will be a key component.
Q What's the next trend in the wireless carrier space: In the US; In Europe; In Asia?
A The key issue that everyone faces is how to make money within the existing infrastructure, and where to invest for the future. The carriers are faced with a number of key issues, including: how to attract new customers, reduce churn, reduce acquisition costs, and increase revenue. Right now they appear to be focusing on developing value added services (like downloadable ring tones, sending photos over the network, and (particularly in the U.S.) increasing the user base for messaging.
Q Where do you see the carrier business for speech technology going over the next three years? Please provide your thoughts in terms of size and services.
A I think the carriers have different strategies. Some are interested in how can they increase activity on the network by improving the user experience, and are very concerned about the UI on the device as a differentiator. Others seem to be more interested in trying to provide value-added services to increase activity and revenue. In both cases, embedded speech recognition can be a critical component of this strategy. The ability to create a seamless interface on the device to access special features on either the phone or the network will be an important differentiator, and speech recognition is the most natural way to improve the interface.
In addition to improving the interface to enhance the UI on the handset or access value-added services on the network, we believe the biggest opportunity for the carriers, both in the U.S. and the rest of the world, is the ability to improve the ease of doing messaging from a mobile phone. A year ago there were about 15 billion SMS messages sent monthly. Today there are over 30 billion SMS messages sent every month, and some forecasts project that within two years there will be over 100 billion SMS messages sent every month. Despite this phenomenal growth, there are significant parts of the world, including the U.S., where SMS messaging has yet to take hold. In order to achieve this kind of growth, it has to be easier for the average mobile phone user to send SMS messages, and what could be easier for the consumer than dictating messages on the phone?
Q What do you say to device manufacturers to get them to embed speech technology into their products?
A Since most mobile phones that are sold today have some form of speaker dependent Voice Dialing, it is not too great a challenge to demonstrate new capabilities that OEM's and carriers didn't know were possible on a handset. The real issue is how to demonstrate to them that speech recognition will help both the device manufacturer and the carrier increase their revenue. To do this, in addition to sharing our vision of where we think the industry is going and how our roadmap can help them and the carriers make money today, we also listen very hard to what their issues are to help them find ways to solve their problems.
Q Describe a successful speech technology implementation and why you thought it was successful. Please include any benchmark statistics that support your thoughts.
A I think that the work we have done with Samsung on the A500 phone was very successful for all parties. Samsung has a strong interest in enabling their phones with state-of-the-art speech recognition. As part of this initiative, they had tried for several years to integrate a small footprint, continuous digit recognizer on their phone. We were able to do this for them in a matter of months. The product is already on the market, and performing extremely well.
Q What are your thoughts concerning the developing standards such as VoiceXML and SALT and their impact upon the future of speech technology?
A These standards will continue to be important for applications and services that require voice-enabling pages and forms out on the Web. Voice Signal's embedded speech recognition is entirely compatible with these standards, but is not dependent on them. Voice Signal's focus has been and continues to be allowing users to use speech to manipulate data on their handsets. This allows efficient interaction with all kinds of data services both on the device and on the carrier's network, from SMS messaging to browsing to database lookup.
Q What are you doing in the toy market to embed speech into toys and games?
A We work closely with the major toy companies, inventors, application developers and chip manufacturers. Among the products that will be available this Christmas, will be an interactive "R2D2" and "Aloha Stitch" from Hasbro, "Hey Man" from WowWee, "P.O.D.Z." from Playmates, and "Hello Teddy" from Dan-Dee.