Is Voice Control Coming Back?

Ever since the dawn of time, voice control of computers has been an interesting topic. I remember software applications 15 years ago that let you run your computer via voice control. They were always clunky, usually required you to speak using strictly separated words, and were mediocre at best. IBM’s Via Voice (owned by Nuance since 2003) is one of those products available in the early days and has been steadily improving over the years. Its Dragon NaturallySpeaking product has been around forever it seems. Any Star Trek loyalist or sci-fi enthusiast will tell you that voice control over computers is one of the oldest ideas out there.

But I haven’t really cared, to be honest. I tried this type of technology years ago and it didn’t work well, so I gave up. Voice control fell victim to that first incarnation, unfortunately, because while the technology has improved vastly, it never occurred to me to try it again after my initial disappointment.

Then the iPhone got a voice-control feature. At first, even that didn’t even impress me much, as the commands seem to be limited. But then I downloaded the Google app for the iPhone. It lets you search on the Web just by saying your search terms. I was blown away by it! It really works! Other apps are springing up that take advantage of the voice-control ability. I have yet to find a good voice-controlled text-messaging app yet, though (one that interfaces with the iPhone’s texting capabilities, not one that uses those free Web services for texting).

Is voice control finally ready for primetime? The folks at Dragon NaturallySpeaking would likely say voice control has been ready for primetime for years, but the reality is that outside of special markets (such as the accessibility market), most people don’t use voice-activated commands on their computers.

If it is coming back, how can your company harness its strengths to make the customer experience better? Google is an easy example, as is any program that requires manual word entry (compared to simple clicks on a Web site). Lots of states are considering banning text messaging while driving, so there is an obvious litigious reason this technology is becoming interesting on mobile devices. But speech recognition has existed for years on the good old desktop computer, so we should also think of ways to harness it on our desktops, Web sites, in-store kiosks, ATMs, and so forth.

Could your business benefit from using speech recognition? In a previous column, I discussed how your business might benefit from visual recognition. Similarly, I wonder how business might harness speech recognition. Typically, there are two kinds: command recognition and free-text recognition. The former lets the user perform tasks specific to your business or application; the latter lets any text be spoken instead of typed.

Now that we have comment ability here at ClickZ, let’s use it! Leave your comments below on speech recognition. Is it ready for primetime yet? Will the iPhone finally bring it to the masses (because we could argue it’s been ready for primetime for awhile)? And more important, what businesses would benefit from this technology if it becomes mainstream across all platforms, including mobile, desktop, and kiosks?

I’ll be interested to see how the conversation unfolds!

Until next time…

Jack

Join us for Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 10-14, 2009, at the McEnery Convention Center. Spend Day 1 learning about social media and video strategies with ClickZ.

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