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Microsoft Gives Voice to Mobile Devices

By Kirk L. Kroeker
Nov 3, 2003 11:54 AM PT

Microsoft has released its first voice-control software for Pocket PC devices that run the latest version of the Windows Mobile operating system. While there are many third-party applications available to control Pocket PC devices by voice command, Microsoft hopes its own Voice Command software will transform PDAs and mobile phones into "virtual personal assistants."

Microsoft Gives Voice to Mobile Devices

With this software, the company hopes to turn up the volume on today's speech-recognition technology by changing the way consumers interact with their Pocket PC devices. Whether users are telephoning a friend from behind the wheel, checking appointments while running errands or listening to music on the treadmill, Microsoft's new Voice Command software is designed to make these activities simpler and more convenient.

"Microsoft's Voice Command sets a new standard in voice-controlled applications for mobile devices," said Dale Coffing, editor of PocketPCPassion.com. "The out-of-the-box experience for making phone calls, hearing the details of upcoming appointments and listening to music is superb. Being able to use my Pocket PC so easily while driving my car or just walking down the street is phenomenal."

Speech-Recognition Tech

The new Voice Command software uses Microsoft's phonetic speech-recognition technology -- which the company reportedly has been researching for 10 years -- to make speech interaction simple, intuitive and practical. While most voice-controlled software applications require users to deliver prerecorded verbal commands, Voice Command lets users speak in their natural language, according to the company.

The software comes with several prebuilt modules, including voice-controlled hands-free phone software. Whether in the car, at the airport or walking down the street, users can have hands-free phone conversations without dialing a number. Instead, they can simply say any name from their contact list. For example, they can say, "Call Bob Smith," or, "Dial 555-1212," and the software -- if running on a phone powered by Windows Mobile -- will dial the number.

The software also offers voice-controlled calendar lookup so that users can check appointments with natural phrases, including, "What's my next appointment?" or, "What's my calendar?" Once the system locates the appointment, the Voice Command software can read the time, subject and location of each entry to the user.

Users also can issue voice commands as a virtual remote control to select and play music on Windows Media Player by album, artist or genre. Alternatively, they can simply say "play music" to have the Voice Command software select a sequence of songs and play them with Windows Media Player. In addition to these Voice Command modules, users can open most Pocket PC applications -- including Internet Explorer or Outlook -- using natural voice cues.

Virtual Remote Control

"Voice Command provides a significant improvement in speech software that is dramatically changing the way people will forever use their mobile devices," said Pieter Knook, corporate vice president for mobile and embedded devices at Microsoft. "The product is a great example of how we're driving synergies between our platforms and devices business to create more powerful mobile experiences for our customers."

Microsoft's Automotive Business Unit developed Voice Command to address consumers' need to be safely connected while on the go. The theory is that people want access to their personalized information, regardless of location, and research seems to support this trend. A recent survey by the Automotive Business Unit revealed that 85 percent of U.S. mobile phone owners and 50 percent of PDA owners use their devices while in the car.

"We've been focused on providing improved communication, entertainment and information to drivers and passengers for the past decade," said Dick Brass, corporate vice president of Automotive Technologies at Microsoft. "No other company has the expertise and technical tools to provide a simple solution like Voice Command to the thousands who need safer, more convenient access to their personalized information both inside and outside the car."

System Requirements

Available for US$39.95 on Handango.com and PocketPC.com, Voice Command runs on Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC or Pocket PC Phone Edition.

The software will work only with Windows Mobile 2003. Pocket PC devices that use Windows Mobile 2002 software must be upgraded before using Voice Command. Technically, all Pocket PC 2002 devices are capable of supporting the new Windows Mobile software for Pocket PC, but each individual OEM ultimately decides whether or not to offer a software upgrade.

While Microsoft makes the Windows Mobile software for Pocket PC, it does not sell this software directly to the public. Microsoft sells its software exclusively to OEMs that optimize it to perform on their specific Pocket PC hardware design.

These optimizations are required to make the software achieve maximum performance on a specific device. As a result, only an OEM can provide users with the upgrade.


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