EarthLink was founded way back in 1994 as an ISP (Internet service provider) determined to make the Internet easy for people to use. And that’s been our mission ever since.
So we’re always looking out for things that may make the Internet easier for you.
One trend in the news lately that looks promising is speech recognition. Speech recognition software allows for a simplified, hands-free experience of your computer, smartphone or tablet.
It’s not that speech recognition is new. Mac computers have for years offered built-in speech recognition (look in the System Preference if you’re curious). Windows Vista and Windows 7 do too, but you need to set it up first. Industry leader Nuance has been making its critically acclaimed Dragon Naturally Speaking software since 1997. I can tell you from personal experience the latest version is very good: I’m actually using it for this post. Android and iPhone OS have also included voice controls (Google calls them Voice Actions) for some time.
So why the buzz now?
The launch of the iPhone 4S, staring Siri. Siri is the embedded speech recognition and voice control system (personified as your own virtual assistant) embedded in Apple’s new iPhones.
While speech recognition has been getting better and better (yes, even in the dreaded automated voice response systems virtually all big companies use to route calls), it hadn’t yet really taken off with consumers because of previous limitations: the difficulty of recognizing speech variations and the requirements that users follow relatively rigid rules to use the systems. You couldn’t just talk naturally.
Siri is different because it excels at natural language recognition. You can speak to it much more freely and normally, like you would to a real person you were asking for help. And it works, though of course not 100% of the time. You can’t ask it anything (yet). Currently Siri responds well to questions or commands in 15 pre-defined areas, such as finding and sending email, searching the Internet, getting directions, playing music, answering factual questions, creating calendar entries, and more.
The good news is that as good as Siri is now, it’s only in Beta. The expectation is that its speech recognition quality and the range of subjects it can deal with will increase dramatically in the coming months.
But don’t worry if you’re not an iPhone user. Google is widely expected to push even harder now to improve its already good voice search and Android Voice Actions to compete with Apple. Apple may also open Siri up to developers looking to enhance a wide range of products. And just yesterday, news broke that in September Amazon had acquired a company called Yap for its voice-recognition technology, so you can probably expect to be talking back to your Kindle or your Amazon shopping search in the not-to-distant future.
Apple and Android phones and tablets have taken off in large part due to the usability advantages of touchscreens, which offer users a simpler and more natural way to interact with tablets. Speech recognition will be the next stage in this evolution, adding hands-free convenience on top of increased simplicity in your Internet experience.
Sounds good to us.