Speech Is The Next User Interface

The market penetration of smartphones has increased drastically over the last couple of years. Not only are more consumers using mobile services than ever before, it’s no surprise to hear the mobile app market is also exploding.

According to Mobile Entertainment, iOS app downloads have now passed the 18 billion mark (with an extra billion added each month) and over 10 billion Android apps have been downloaded to date. In a crowded market, developers are looking to differentiate their offering from other available applications – and one way they are doing so is by incorporating speech.

Consumers prefer multi-modal input capabilities -touch screens for example were once viewed as a revolution in mobile interfaces- and speech as an input method is being explored by developers and handset manufactures alike. Just as significant as the developments in the app market themselves are the advances being made in speech recognition technology.

Speech recognition is nothing new, and it is still perceived by many as clunky and inaccurate. This scepticism is understandable, but the technology has improved to such an extent in recent years that it is now being used in in-car systems, to select music, update social media profiles on the move and interact with navigation devices, as well as in call centres across the globe, helping businesses manage their inbound calls more effectively, and offer better customer service.

The launch of the Apple iPhone 4S has also increased excitement around the technology. Its ability to unite speech with smart language understanding, packaged with a personal assistant experience, is of high value to the user. Now, it’s even possible to talk to your TV to tell it to change the channel.

Combining the potential of speech recognition technology with a burgeoning app development market offers exciting opportunities to engage with customers and generate new revenues in ways that have not been possible before.

Big brands, such as Amazon, are already using the power of speech to engage with their customers – setting their offering apart from competitors. It recently launched its Price Check app which lets users simply speak the name of any product when they are shopping to receive instant prices for that item on Amazon.com. The app’s additional functionality lets customers scan a barcode, snap a picture or type a product name to return product matches and pricing from Amazon.com and its other online merchants.

The use of voice search technology, specifically for mobile e-commerce applications, demonstrates how speech can bring power and efficiency to the mobile shopping experience. It enables developers like Amazon to offer consumers an innovative and intuitive way to find information on their favourite products and services – anytime, anywhere.

Meanwhile, online dictionary and thesaurus company, Merriam-Webster used speech technology to fill a gap in the market. The company understood that if you turn to a dictionary to find a spelling, it would be far more efficient to say the word you are looking for, rather than attempt to write it. Voice search can address this need.

While speech recognition technology hasn’t been without controversy, the reality is that it has developed to such an extent that it now offers a valuable proposition to businesses and consumers. We’re at an exciting time as we begin to see the voice interface become the mobile interface for a lot of customers.

Today, people can quickly use their voice to find and listen to music, access streaming movies, find local retailers, get reviews, make reservations, and more. With developers creating unique apps voice speech technology in many languages, it is possible to create better experiences for consumers all over the world. The great news is, we’re only just getting started.

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John West has responsibility for technical business development of Nuance’s mobile application portfolio within Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA based in Cambridge UK. He rejoined Nuance in November 2006, after spending a year away as Head of Products at Fluency Voice Technology, previously with them from late 2000. Prior to that he held sales and technical positions at Vocalis and Intervoice. He has 18 years experience in Speech, Mobile & IVR technologies.