The Cell Phone Does More Than Just Make Calls

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Interactive Data Corp. predicts that there will be 850 million remote workers across the globe by 2009. To help those workers remain productive while away from the office, many firms and employees have turned to PDAs. But while these devices increase mobility, they also make for cumbersome menus and repeated clicking and typing.

"What we saw with our customers, and especially physicians who were starting to get e-prescriptions on a PDA, was that as neat as it was to do, it really was a pain in the neck," explains Bill Montgomery, national director of healthcare sales at Sprint. It could take doctors 35 to 70 seconds to create and file e-prescriptions using their PDAs. "That length of time spent clicking a wheel or pen or typing was annoying for most physicians. Only the die-hard techies didn’t mind, so the adoption rate for e-prescribing was pretty horrific. What became clear to us was that this was too slow and too hard."

"To type through a menu is very painful. It takes about 40 clicks to find a Rolling Stones song by typing with your thumbs," adds Michael Thompson, vice president and general manager of search and communications at Nuance Communications.

Developers have toyed with ways to make mobile devices like these more user-friendly, but what if it were as simple as using what 3 billion people around the world already have in their pockets—their mobile phones?

According to Sprint, it is that easy. Working with companies like Nuance and Vocera, Sprint is rolling out speech-enabled solutions for its mobile phones across all of its enterprise and individual customer bases. Rather than going to a Web site and clicking through pages and pages of data or calling into an interactive voice response (IVR) system, Sprint makes it possible for airline travelers to push a button on their cell phones and say status, Delta Flight 312 to have the answer delivered immediately to their phones. Getting that answer would take about two minutes through a company’s IVR or Web site, but using speech access via the mobile phone cuts that to anywhere between two and four seconds.

"The speech interface can help to provide a much better experience for interacting on a device like the cell phone, especially in a situation where you can’t use your fingers or you can’t pay too much attention using your eyes on the display," explains Thilo Koslowski, vice president of the Automotive Manufacturing Industry Advisory Service at Gartner.

One of those situations is in the car. "Mobile phone usage-related traffic accidents are on the rise. In the United States, New York, California, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C., have all passed hands-free mobile driving laws. Similar regulations have been enforced in countries such as Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, to name a few," explains Daniel Hong, lead analyst at Datamonitor. "This opens up opportunities for the voice user interface in mobile devices and automotive navigation systems if vendors can render them truly dependable. The ability to operate mobile phones and automotive navigation systems with hands-free navigation is becoming more crucial and vendors must examine the opportunities for speech recognition."

That’s exactly what the industry is doing. "Mobile applications are once again looking to speech as a possible solution. We have all been through a couple of iterations and false starts with speech technology. The positive side is that people are re-engaging in the possibilities of speech. In terms of timing in an industry, there are increasing legislation and social pressures around the interface while you are in the car," declares Victor Melfi, chief strategy officer and senior vice president of voice services at VoiceBox Technologies. "The time has come for speech."

"Realistically, if you look worldwide there are about 3 billion cell phones out there, and that is still growing very rapidly. The shift that is going on is that these cellular phones—or whatever device this is going to morph into, is going to be the primary device that people use from now on," says Betsy Wood, a multimedia applications evangelist at Nortel Networks.

What’s more, Interactive Data Corp. predicts that shipments of converged mobile devices will grow from 80.9 million in 2006 to 304.4 million in 2011. The demand for access to mobile content using speech is becoming more than a matter of convenience and coolness; it is a matter of efficiency and productivity. "If you are going to provide service for those people and do it really well, speech is going to have to play a role in it," Wood says.

Granting users access to speech on mobile devices opens up many opportunities for individuals and enterprises alike. The convenience of this technology for the individual actually complements and creates value for the enterprise. The access to information and tasks that would generally be limited to the desk or an environment where hands and eyes must be used is expanded by freeing the users’ hands and eyes for other tasks, such as driving. In addition, this technology enables users to multitask, which in turn makes them more productive and efficient throughout their day. This increased efficiency and productivity has obvious benefits to the enterprise; it also creates more free time for the user.

"Enterprises benefit if their employees are more productive. More productive means their employees can communicate and do their jobs on their mobile phones more effectively. What is happening around this market in the enterprise is that speech-enabled capabilities really unleash productivity for the enterprise customer," Thompson says.

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