To those of us in the mobile speech recognition business, it’s obvious that voice recognition will be the next revolutionary user interface paradigm for mobile phones. However, it seems to be creeping up on a lot of industry folks and may, ironically, be a “silent” revolution that winds up catching many entrenched corporate decision-makers off guard.
So why is this revolution self-evident, and why will it catch some unaware?
Let’s start with the fact that virtually every mobile device that ships today (over a billion every year), comes with a fast, high-bandwidth 3G connection, a bright, high-res color screen, great battery life, and plenty of processing power and memory. Any consumer electronic device with these attributes shipping in such volume attracts a herd of talented developers eager to make innovative applications. We’ve seen it in mobile TV and radio, local search, mobile email, gaming and navigation applications.
But for most of these apps there historically has been one major drawback: a decent user interface. Take navigation as an example. Navigation apps for mobile devices are far superior to in-car products because they are running in real time. They can help find cheap gas and warn of travel delays. They are responsive. But the UI is a disaster. Who has the patience to type address information on a touch screen, QWERTY keyboard or – gasp – a conventional 12-key phone? Not many. So, because the UI is weak, the innovative nav apps are underused.
Vlingo views the UI as key to unleashing the power of mobile devices. Our UI enables mobile navigation, search, email, text messaging, social networking and more. Millions of users have downloaded Vlingo to their BlackBerry or iPhone and spoken tens of millions of times to it to send text messages, surf the web, update their Facebook or Twitter status and more. We see that users who have the ability to control their applications by speaking use the applications from 50%-70% more than people who only have typing or touch screens available to them.
So why is this catching some by surprise? There is a simple answer: nearly everyone has had a crumby experience with speech recognition. Who hasn’t been trapped in IVR hell? Add to that the fact that speech recognition is the “oldest new technology” we know (people have been working hard on it since the 1970s), and many industry leaders just don’t have faith it will ever work well enough to be useful.
That’s where Vlingo’s technological breakthroughs come into play. Our big move was to build a self-learning system that understands anything you say, instead of limiting you to just a certain number of words. However, we’re not going to be perfect—especially in a mobile environment where people might be talking to our system in a loud bar or fast car. But we recognize that up front, so if Vlingo makes a mistake, you can just put your cursor over the word we got wrong, and chances are the word you wanted will appear just below in a drop-down list. You select the correct word and you’re on your way. And here’s the really cool part: when you make those corrections, you are actually training the system and making it better, not just for you, but for the Vlingo community. The more users we have, the better we get.
The road can be rocky when revolutionary technology takes on conventional wisdom. A great example from our own mobile industry is when the renowned consulting firm McKinsey & Co. in 1980 forecast that by the year 2000 the entire US mobile phone market would be less than one million subscribers. Of course by 2000 we had passed 100 million subscribers and today stand at over 270 million. How could this happen? Well, McKinsey looked at the fact that most phones in 1980s weighed 5 pounds, had about 45 minutes of battery power, cost over $1,000, and “just didn’t work very reliably.”
As the saying goes, you’ll never get a forecast right by looking in the rearview mirror. We’re trying to avoid a market miss at Vlingo by evangelizing what we do, and we hope you’ll help by telling your friends and family about us.
Dave Grannan – President & CEO, Vlingo