Speech-enabled applications have been around for some time, but they have never reached the level of adoption that proponents of the technology have predicted over the years. IBM is out to change all of that.
In New York on Tuesday, the company showcased a host of applications -- both prototypes and commercial -- that its research labs and partners have built incorporating voice recognition and speech technologies.
While IBM has been doing research for about 10 years in the speech area, speech-enabled applications have come a long way since the company first introduced dictation technologies to the medical industry, Dr. David Nahamoo, chief technology officer of speech technology at IBM Research, said.
And IBM's partners, some of whom were on hand at the event in IBM's Manhattan office to show off applications using IBM ViaVoice technology, are a big part of why speech technology is moving forward, he said.
"We're working with partners to make a lot of things happen so we accelerate the delivery of useful products and offerings in the marketplace," Nahamoo said.
Another thing IBM did about a year ago to accelerate the company's ability to offer speech-enabled applications that are "truly useful" to the average person was to integrate its speech research into its core software group, said Dan Miller, an analyst with Opus Research in San Francisco.
"[This] means they're willing to bring solutions that involve the full line of WebSphere middleware, and application servers along into solutions that indeed involve speech," he said.
IBM's long-standing tradition of innovation also brings credibility to speech-enabled applications and could inspire more people to use them, Miller added.
At Tuesday's event, companies such as Navigation Pioneer Electronics and All Media Guide showed how they are using Embedded ViaVoice speech-recognition technology in commercial applications.
For example, Pioneer's AVIC-Z2 new car navigation system provides detailed driving directions that go beyond the usual "turn left at the next street" with the help of Embedded ViaVoice, said Ted Cardenas, product planning manager, Navigation Pioneer Electronics. "It will actually tell you the street name," he said, adding this is safer because the driver does not have to look at the screen to double-check the street name.
The AVIC-Z2 system also learns a driver's driving habits, and will only map out directions that avoid certain freeways and streets if a driver tends to do the same thing, Cardenas said.
All Media Guide, which provides information about music, musical artists, songs and albums for Web sites, online music stores and other entertainment outlets, has teamed with IBM and Avoca Semiconductor to allow users to interact by voice with their personal media collections, said Zac Johnson, product manager for All Media Guide.
Avoca's speech-enabled user interface is called the Media Control Platform, within which is IBM Embedded ViaVoice. All Media Guide provides the engine within the platform that lets people use voice capabilities to find artists and songs they want to listen to, he said.
For example, a user can tell the system it wants to hear Bruce Springsteen, or "Play The Boss," using his nickname to identify him, Johnson said. The technology can work with a variety of devices on which users store their digital media, such as PCs, iPods or MP3 players.
IBM faces its stiffest competition from Nuance Communications in the speech technology market, but another big software competitor, Microsoft Corp., also is moving into the space, Opus's Miller said.
In particular, Microsoft is focused on embedding voice into its Office Communication Server collaboration software, he said. This will provide some interesting competitive offerings down the road as IBM also is doing the same with its Lotus/Sametime collaboration suite, Miller said.
"I think those companies are really pushing each other to innovate in that area," he said.