Apple's Siri puts voice-enabled search in spotlight
Apple Inc will again dominate conversations at CES, the world's biggest technology showcase. Only this time, the talk is extending beyond iPad and iPhone chatter to include Siri, the voice app that is capturing consumers' imagination.
Apple's dulcet-voiced, speech-controlled personal assistant, a key factor in making the iPhone 4S a blockbuster, has breathed new life into the once-obscure and oft-maligned world of speech-recognition technology.
Siri, which can do everything from taking dictation for text messages and entering calendar appointments to answering general-knowledge questions, has intrigued users. Experts say it demonstrated emphatically that voice recognition has moved beyond the days of misheard commands, narrowly defined keywords and anguishingly slow speeds.
The smartphone industry is now scrambling to match and better Apple's offering. Google Inc and Microsoft Corp will likely want to cash in on an explosion of interest in an area they have invested in for years, without getting anything like the attention Siri is attracting.
All the mobile phone manufacturers are investing in speech, expanding investments in speech, creating more elegant designs and integrating it more deeply into phones, said Michael Thompson, senior vice president for mobile at voice-recognition specialist Nuance .
Thompson was coy about his company's future plans but said he expects voice to be a central topic at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas as device makers jostle for attention from investors, media and consumers.
While voice is expected to be used in many areas of consumer electronics, the technology is particularly pertinent to cellphones because it simplifies functions from Web surfing to typing.
Internet merchants like eBay are also jumping on the bandwagon. And reports have emerged about a voice-control for TVS from South Korea's LG Electronics just before CES, which will open its doors in Las Vegas this week.
Many companies at CES are not yet ready to showcase products that can match or outdo Siri, Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin said. But he said he expects the current flurry of activity to result in big voice product advancements in coming years as the technology is perfected.
Apple's rivals are planning to ship phones with improved speech technology in the fall, in time for the 2012 year-end holiday season, said Thompson at Nuance, which supplies and licenses technology to Apple but has its own voice app.
Even traditional PC makers will jump on the bandwagon: Intel announced at CES on Monday it will adopt Nuance's Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice-command technology on ultra-thin laptops -- dubbed UltraBooks -- coming out this year from the likes of Dell and Hewlett Packard .
Voice as an input mechanism is going to be more and more useful and more and more prevalent, Golvin said. Consumers have a lot of bad historical experience with it. They are going to encounter good voice interfaces more and more.
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