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The next wave of online mobile has taken a step forward with the introduction of voice recognition technology. In a recent Boston Globe article, several new voice applications for mobile Web search are discussed including Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Tellme. So what’s all the excitement about? In the U.S., mobile Web usage remains relatively low. ClickZ reports: “An average 29 percent of European Internet users access the Web on mobile devices. This includes users in Germany (34 percent); Italy (34 percent); France (28 percent); Spain (26 percent); and the U.K. (24 percent). In the U.S., 19 percent of Internet users access the Internet on cell phones and other mobile devices.” In a survey conducted by Yankee Group in April 2006, “about 18 percent of wireless users in the U.S. said they had at least tried using the mobile Internet, but only 6 percent considered themselves regular mobile Internet users.”

In Europe and Asia, people tend to be more mobile, spending more time out of their homes and on public transportation, which allows them more time and freedom to access the Internet via mobile phone. For anyone who has spent time in Japan, Korea or China, the use of mobile Web applications is a daily, if not hourly, habit. In the U.S., people tend to spend more time in their homes, where they prefer to access the Internet on their desktop, and in their cars, where it is almost impossible to navigate the Web on a mobile phone. With the introduction of voice recognition for mobile search, consumers in the U.S. can simply verbalize their search needs and have content delivered to their mobile phone to be used when they have the time and availability. Having the ability to time shift their search or get immediate feedback will not only simplify mobile search, but should also encourage increased usage potentially taking away market share from directory assistance.

“Speech in general has been that technology that’s always right around the corner. And we’ve clearly, over the last couple of years, turned that corner,” said Jeff Van Rhee, a senior analyst at Craig-Hallum Capital Group in Minneapolis. “Now we’re just getting into the handset, where there’s really value added.” If directory companies and online verticals can develop voice- enabled products for local businesses, then location-based advertising can take a giant step forward. Local SME advertisers can then be offered the option of text and graphical-based advertising as well as voice-enabled options where both graphics/text and voice can be sent back to consumers when they make a voice query. It will fall to the search engines and directory companies to develop local voice-enabled content in order to make voice-enabled search on a local basis work effectively.

The future of mobile Web search is on our doorstep. Much like Star Trek, consumers can now ask for something and visuals and voice files are delivered on the spot. In an age where consumers continue to seek immediate access to information, this new voice-enabled search technology allows a mobile phone to go where no search engine has gone before.

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