• June 1, 2009
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

Tellme Pushes One-Button Voice Access to Mobile Communications

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Mobile phones equipped with the new Windows Mobile 6.5 platform, which will include extensive voice command features courtesy of Microsoft’s Tellme Networks subsidiary, aren’t due to hit stores until the fall at the earliest, but they’re already creating quite a stir.

Mobile carriers, telephone handset manufacturers, application developers, software engineers, and even competitors have all been lining up to take a look—or, in some cases, to take a few pot shots—at the platform since Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer first introduced it at the Mobile World Congress in Spain in mid-February.

The landscape has heated up since then, following the April 29 announcement by Microsoft and Tellme that the latter’s capabilities, which are reportedly going to be integrated into a new version of Ford’s Windows-based Sync automotive technology, will allow users of Windows Mobile 6.5 phones to press the side button on their phones and then speak their commands to:

  • send text messages by saying text to open a text box, speaking the text messages, and saying send to send them to anyone in their contact lists;
  • initiate calls by saying call and then the name of anyone in their contact lists; and
  • search the Web with Microsoft Live Search by speaking their requests, such as weather in San Francisco, pizza in Kansas City, movies, or Father’s Day gift ideas.

Microsoft says this service is the first to combine voice commands with the ability to add content to text fields at the press of a single button. 

Many industry watchdogs have begun speculating that Microsoft is positioning the fact it will offer voice capabilities natively on the platform as an attempt to steal hearts and minds away from Apple’s iPhone, which the speech industry has blasted since its introduction nearly two years ago for not including native voice technologies. Microsoft even points out that in a side-by-side comparison, users need to initiate four touches and more than 20 keystrokes to find a business with the Apple iPhone, while it only takes one button push and one verbal command to find the same business with Tellme.

And while the announcement was certainly a happy moment for Tellme’s people in Mountain View, Calif., and Microsoft’s people in Redmond, Wash., folks across the country at Nuance Communications’ headquarters in Burlington, Mass., were already entering attack mode.

“It appears that Tellme-Microsoft is trying to catch up from a laggard position on voice input to mobile devices,” Michael Thompson, senior vice president and general manager of Nuance Mobile, wrote in an email. “Their product is not only limited to Windows Mobile 6.5 handsets, but it isn’t available today and won’t be for some time.” 

Thompson wasted no time pointing out that his company “has long been offering these capabilities” to carriers and phone manufacturers as part of its VSuite and Nuance Voice Control 2.0 applications. “Owners of more than 300 million phones worldwide from major OEMs, such as Motorola, RIM, and Samsung, already enjoy one-button access to voice-enabled features with Nuance’s VSuite,” he said. 

Microsoft can counter with some impressive numbers of its own, arguing that its Tellme technology is used by more than 40 million people every month, and powers billions of calls per year. 

Furthermore, since February, the software giant has offered Microsoft Recite, a voice search technology for Windows phones version 6.0 or later. Recite provides users with a fast, simple way to capture, search, and retrieve spoken notes and reminders using just their voices, without the need to navigate menus or type text. 

Tellme will be available for free on Windows Mobile 6.5 phones in the fall when the phones hit store shelves. Initially available in the Windows Marketplace for Mobile store, the service will also be available for free to mobile operators and carriers to embed into their mobile devices for a voice experience right out of the box.

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