Tellme has been in the speech, automated directory assistance and “voice search” segment for a decade. Two years ago the company was acquired by Microsoft for roughly $800 million. Since that time the two companies have been working on integration and developing next-generation services. Tellme powers Microsoft’s LiveSearch 411, among other services.
Today, two years to the day after the acqusition, Tellme made two related announcements about improved speech technology and an upgraded mobile user experience. (Here’s the enterprise-facing release.) On the consumer side of the equation, Tellme has introduced a “one-button” approach to initiate calls, dictate text messages and conduct searches with Microsoft Live Search:
The new service puts many of the most popular phone functions behind a single button. Windows phone users just press the side button of their phone to:
- Send a text by saying “text” to open a text box, then speak the text message and send to call anyone in their contact list
- Initiate a call simply by saying “call” and then the name of anyone in their contact list
- Search the Web with Microsoft Live Search by speaking your request, such as “weather in San Francisco, California”, “Pizza in Kansas City” or “mother’s day gift ideas”
The Live Search mobile client has had a voice front end for some time, but that’s now been upgraded. Tellme’s technology is also being integrated at the network/OS level into Windows Mobile 6.5, which will reportedly ship later in the year.
Theoretically anything that you could do with search on the handset using Microsoft Live Search you can now do with voice faster and more easily. I saw the service demo’d briefly and it appeared to work very well. Tellme is arguing in its press materials that voice offers a better user experience than “touch” (i.e., the iPhone). However the iPhone has voice search clients available from Vlingo and Google. Vlingo is also behind Yahoo’s voice-powered oneSearch client.
There is clearly enormous potential for voice search to transform the mobile user experience and increase search volume dramatically. So far that has not happened. But the promise is there. Tellme’s deeper integration into Windows Mobile could represent a strategic differentiator for Microsoft and Windows Mobile phones but we’ll have to see once we get a chance to “live” with the service.
Tellme’s capabilities will also be an integrated feature of the new Kumo/Kiev/Live Search successor in mobile. I have some additional thoughts in a post at LocalMobileSearch.