System Vocalizes SMS & E-mail Ads, Lets Users Talk Back

Can text-to-voice translation — and vice-versa, voice-to-text — be the godsend that short-message service (SMS) and mobile e-mail marketers have been waiting for? iSpeech would like to think so, as the company on Friday announced its soon-to-be-released upgraded smartphone app that’s designed to let on-the-go users listen to text messages and e-mails and then respond by voice.

Specifically aimed at automobile operators, the first version of the app, which is dubbed “DriveSafe.ly,” has accrued 1.8 million unique users since its launch in September, according to CEO Heath Ahrens. The key ripple effect to the system’s upgrade from an advertiser’s standpoint, he said, entails giving the drivers a hands-free option for responding to an SMS or e-mail promo. Before, the app would read text and e-mail messages aloud but didn’t enable voice replies.

While SMS messages and text-only e-mails are read word-for-word by the app, Ahrens said, HTML e-mails are parsed to strip image code from the translation. He admitted that the type of handheld being used can affect how accurately the HTML e-mails are read.

“It is designed to read all of the copy or text that’s meant to be read in an HTML message,” Ahrens said, while exhibiting at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. “It will also read off short [link code for advertised Web sites]. But if it’s like 64 characters long, it will skip over the link.”

Marketers particularly focused on mobile, such as entertainment players that pitch theater, concert, and stadium tickets, would appear to be among the most obvious potential beneficiaries. Radio and billboard advertisers may also see gains among “DriveSafe.ly” users with texting campaigns that involve coupon coding.

“It adds value for marketers using the text-messaging platform,” Ahrens said. “It simply makes it easier for message recipients to respond to offers.”

To be clear, when users talk into their handhelds, the message is sent in text form — not as a voice note. The system, which will be released this quarter, will be available for BlackBerry and Android users, with versions for iPhone and Treo in a “coming soon” phase.

iSpeech is offering a one-time subscription fee (currently $13.95) for its premium version, which includes the audibilizing of up to 500 words per message, the choice to hear a male or female voice, and a text/e-mail auto-responder that lets friends/colleagues know the user is currently driving. The Newark, NJ-based company’s free version offers a female voice and reads up to just 25 words.

Interestingly, “DriveSafe.ly” has built up more than 220,000 Facebook fans to go with its nearly two million users. On both fronts, according to a spokesperson, the growth has been “all organic.”

Meanwhile, there’s little doubt that voice recognition continues to emerge as an intriguing part of mobile marketing’s future. Voice search applications for smartphones have been abuzz for the last year, while companies like LavaLife have employed interactive voice response (IVR) to target their products/services at the on-the-go set for the last few years.

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