Is Voice Recognition Future of Mobile Search?
On the pro-voice recognition side, Michael Libes, the chief architect and co-founder of Medio, noted that in addition to text-based search, his company "has had voice recognition live for over a year now." He says it has better than 90% success in recognizing spoken words--and even more for words that it "knows" (i.e., pre-programmed vocabulary).
Making the case for voice recognition tech, Libes distinguished between "voice-in, voice-out" applications, which return search results with automated speech, and Medio's "voice-in, visual-out," which responds to verbal-search queries with text displays. According to Libes, most consumers prefer the latter.
But Libes' co-panelists disagreed, led by Doug Leeds, vice president of product management for Ask.com. According to Leeds: "Voice recognition is a transitory technology. I don't think it's going to be the killer app for mobile search." Leeds cited continuing difficulties with voice-driven systems, including high recognition failure rates, as well as consumers' existing familiarity with text-based search. Rather, he forecast that the "killer app will be better data entry devices"--for example, larger keyboards using touch screen interfaces.
Likewise, Zaw Thet--CEO and co-founder of 4Info, a text-message search service--was skeptical about voice-recognition search functionality. In part, he noted, "it's the need for asynchronous communication in our ADD society"--meaning the ability to send a query without having to dial a number and speak during other activities. Text-messaging allows users to multitask.
The panel was able to agree, however, on one point--as stated by Darcia de Freitas, Microsoft product manager for live search for mobile. When Freitas polled media executives in the audience to find out how many were using mobile advertising in marketing campaigns, only two out of approximately 200 audience members raised their hands.
"That's the big barrier going forward," Freitas said. "Users expect search to be free, as it is to them today on the PC. Free to them means an ad-funded model to the rest of us." Seeing that revenue stream come to life, she concludes, is going to be one of the critical steps to building mobile search as a viable business.