Microsoft has high hopes that a new speech-recognition application for the forthcoming Windows Mobile operating system will be attractive enough to draw people to the phone platform.
On Wednesday, Microsoft planned to announce a new service that will work on Windows Mobile 6.5 devices and will let people speak into the phone to search the Internet, make phone calls and dictate text messages. The technology comes from Tellme, a company that offers hosted voice recognition services and was acquired by Microsoft in 2007.
Key to the offering is a dedicated button that launches the service on the phone, said Marcello Typrin, director of product management for Tellme. To make it really easy to use, the service should be accessible from a single point, he said. That compares to the iPhone experience, where users must navigate to the apps page and open the Google Mobile App to use a similar voice-activated search service.
In addition, the Tellme application is about more than just search. Windows Mobile 6.5 users will be able to say "call" and a name, and the phone will automatically dial a name from the address book. Users can also say "text," and then dictate a message that will be converted to text and then sent.
Otherwise, if users just start speaking, the technology will automatically search for the words.
The Tellme service will automatically be set to use Microsoft's Live Search, but people will be able to change it to use another search provider if they want to, Typrin said. "We don't want to force someone onto a search engine they don't want to use," he said.
Windows Mobile customers can already use voice commands with Live Search, but the Tellme application adds the text and voice call features and pulls all three into a single, easily accessible service.
While customers may need to push fewer buttons to launch the service, they have to push buttons more often while using the service than do their iPhone-using counterparts. With the Tellme text application, for example, users hit the button before they start speaking their message and hit it again when they're done speaking. By contrast, the Google Mobile App automatically starts listening when the user moves the phone to the ear and then stops when the user is finished speaking.
The offering will come free with Windows Mobile 6.5, the next generation of the operating system that is scheduled to start appearing on phones in the second half of the year, but it's up to the phone maker to include it. Microsoft doesn't intend to make the service exclusive to Windows Mobile phones, so other platforms may start using it in the future, Typrin said.
The application will also become available in Microsoft's forthcoming mobile application marketplace, so people who buy Windows Mobile 6.5 phones that don't come preloaded with the capability will be able to download it later. If they do, they'll follow instructions to assign the Tellme function to a specific button on the phone. They could, for example, set up the service so that pressing and holding the Windows button that comes on most Windows Mobile phones will activate the service.
In addition, the service should get other capabilities on an ongoing basis, Typrin said. For example, in the future a user might be able to say "play Rolling Stones" to play music from the music player.