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Usabilty builds markets
Monday, 14 December 2009 00:00

Historically, making it easier to use computers and the Web have built huge companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Apple, with Microsoft and Apple most notably taking advantage of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) and pointing devices, while Google focused on easy web search. Both Microsoft and Google (as well as other organizations such as Nuance Communications and AT&T and some international organizations) have developed speech recognition and speech synthesis capability internally.

For small devices such as mobile phones and in automobiles, interaction by voice is becoming an important option because the small devices make PC-like approaches such as text entry and graphical navigation more difficult to use. Speech technology may be a key part of the battleground in the mobile and telephony space, and spread even to PCs and enterprise call centers as users get spoiled by the "just say what you want" paradigm. Speech technology to support this paradigm has easily passed this threshold of usability, but past overstated claims for the technology has made the general press wary-- many articles superficially focus on isolated errors to claim the technology isn't ready yet, while ignoring the success of difficult speech applications such as free directory assistance (e.g., 1-800-GOOG-411 from Google and 1-800-BING-411 from Microsoft). While there is always a need for an alternative in environments where one can't speak, there is a good chance that the speech model will dominate thinking, with "type what you would say" the mental model when speech isn't practical.

The reality is that speech technology may be the key competitive technology for the next wave of technology directly used by consumers. Even on PCs, the GUI has clearly become overburdened, and all of us at times have wished we could just say what we want to accomplish and hold a dialog with our computer to clarify any ambiguities, like calling a good technical support representative.

As an example, Google's Android and Apple's iPhone already feature limited speech interaction capability; and Google Voice converts voicemail-to-text. It will be interesting to see if the recently publicized upcoming Google Phone uses speech technology more pervasively.

 

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