Friday, July 23, 2021

Now Speaking to the Mobile Market: Voice Command

For PDA or cell phone enthuasiasts frustrated by poking a stylus or fingers on seemingly microscopic-sized keypads, Microsoft’s Voice Command
application might be a welcome change.

The software giant’s Voice Command (version 1) was released Monday morning at Handago.com and
PocketPC.com for $39.95, for PDA or cell phone users using the
Windows Mobile 2003 software on their PocketPC.

The application’s speech-recognition recognizes English, regardless of the
accent, and connects users to their contact list, calendar or Windows
media center.

It’s a departure from many other so-called speech recognition
applications on the market, in which the software recognizes only key
words or phrases, or after synching the speech-recognition engine
to the users voice. Voice Command, officials said, is truly
plug-and-play.

If a user says, “Call Shirley Jones,” the software will
immediately start dialing the phone number in the contact list. If
there is more than one phone number, a female voice will chime back
asking whether you want the work or home number.

When a user says, “play I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” the software will
load up Windows media center and play the Rolling Stones tune. Likewise,
you can ask what your next appointment is and it will reply with the
next scheduled event in the calendar.

The application will also open up other applications like Word,
calculator or even Solitaire.

The biggest trick for Voice Command developers at Microsoft, said Peter
Wengert, a marketing manager at Microsoft, was getting the desktop
version of Voice Command scaled down to the current 4-5MB file size.

“It’s been a challenge, but we’ve got some great people who were able to
port the speech recognition app down to the embedded platform,” he said.
“The thing you sacrifice isn’t necessarily the speech recognition when
you go to an embedded device, it’s really the size of the text-to-speech
engine. If you want to get all the vocabulary of a naturally-sounding
person, you really need the power of a desktop PC. But she does the
job.”

Initially, Microsoft was marketing this strictly as a tool for the 86
percent of commuters who, according to the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration, who felt using a PDA or cell phone made driving
much more dangerous.

Microsoft has been working with the automotive industry since
1995 to collaborate on software that will create a safer environment for
drivers; there are vehicles on the road around the world with built-in
speech-recognition, Bluetooth synchronization with other wireless
devices and navigation.

But after more than 1,000 beta users tested Voice Command (off the
highway), officials found people were using it for everyday use, saying
the product made life a lot easier.

“It’s a great application for the enthusiast, but what we’re finding as
we reach the mass consumers is what one person said, ‘it’s great for the
lazy people,’ ” Wengert said. “I have a contact list with more than 200
contacts. It’s a lot easier to just say the name instead of doing a
search and typing in the first few letters.”

One other segment of users is being overlooked by Microsoft marketers
however: the millions of disabled consumers and workers in the U.S.

Brewster Thackeray, National Organization on Disabilities spokesperson,
said Voice Command opens the doors to many people who really need the
technology.

“What’s unfortunate many times is that technology becomes available to
people but it’s not affordable,” he said. “What jumped out at me was
the price; it’s exciting, because we need more high-tech assisted
technology that’s also affordable.”

While the less-than-robust capabilities of the print-to-speech software
of Voice Command makes its usefulness for blind people limited, Jim
Denham of the American Foundation for the Blind said any technology that
helps people with disabilities is a good thing.

“We’re all in favor of anything we can do to engage the other senses,
vis a vis, speech and auditory output,” he said. “But until we can get
full speech output, it’s not going to help visually impaired people a
whole lot.”

Wengert said the feedback from its beta testers has provided a wealth of
information to include in version 2, one of which includes a more
complete print-to-speech element.

Another limitation of the software, its American English-only software,
he expects will be expanded with software updates down the road.

“With other languages, we have some work to do,” he said, but said some
of the other major languages will come out “very soon.”

Developers around the world have been working on building voice-enabled
applications for mobile devices like PDAs. Earlier this year, the
Speech Application Language Tags forum made
strides to tying HTML and XHTML applications with mobile devices
.

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