Recently on TechCrunch.tv, former scientist turned hedge fund manager, turned author, Andy Kessler picked “voice” as the next big area of innovation. Among other things he argues (in adjacent video segments) that screens aren’t intuitive, and we’re moving toward interfaces that are more fitting to the ways we naturally communicate.
Meanwhile, we’re seeing speech-to-text processing improve through the feedback loop inherent in greater volumes of use, though there is a ways to go. But if there is any vote of confidence for voice search, it’s Apple’s recent acquisition of Siri (our analysis here), not to mention Google’s continued development and investment in the technology.
Other players meanwhile push further into the field. Microsoft, via Tellme, is doing interesting things, including voice search capabilities in Bing mobile apps. There’s also Vlingo, an independent player in the space that powers voice search apps including its own user facing product that’s been downloaded 5 million times.
Vlingo’s most recent move (via TechCrunch) is the launch of its “superdialer” for Android. Positioned by CEO Dave Gannon as an “infinite address book in the cloud,” it’s essentially a voice-powered directory app that offers location-based listings from category searches. Results include maps, numbers, directions and reviews, and it will monetize sponsored results.
This is different from some of the aforementioned voice products in that it specializes in the narrower corpus of local search. It’s also a bit of a departure from the “use case” people are used to with 411 (i.e., “city and listing”), but it is fitting to the evolving and more intuitive ways we are searching on mobile devices.
Mobile search of course involves a new set of hardware standards and thus a new form of behavior that is developing around it. First-generation mobile local search was the old directory assistance. Second generation was arguably SMS search, such as the seldom used Google SMS. Third (and current) generation was local search apps such as WHERE or YPMobile.
We’re on the cusp of the fourth generation that infuses social activity (i.e., Foursquare). After that, it’s anyone’s guess, but one key element will likely be voice as an input mechanism, in addition to other interfaces that are more intuitive or even biometric in some way.
In the meantime, voice is an area that is ripe for development (the market’s job), and ripe for commentary/analysis (our job). I’m with Kessler; stay tuned for much more.