Black and White Program

Voice to Text and Back

June 13th, 2008 by John Eastman

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At the urging of a friend, I have cautiously entered the world of cell phone text messaging. Email and voice are still my communication methods of choice, and I have yet to become fluent in text messaging. I cannot bring myself to use messaging abbreviations like “u” for “you”, “ruok” for “are you okay?” Although I am quite efficient on a standard computer keyboard, using the small phone keypad is not my forte. Even with T9 settings– predictive text that anticipates the word that you may be spelling– I alternately struggle between not being able to bang out a message quickly or typing too fast for my Sprint phone to handle it. Confirming my suspicions, I don’t like to text, I find it inefficient, and cannot get my thoughts down nearly fast enough. Nonetheless, I have enjoyed its benefits.

I certainly understand the effectiveness of text messaging and can see how, in the absence of voice communication, it can be a great tool. I can especially appreciate how when one party cannot use voice, such as in meetings, texting can serve as a great tool. Somehow, texting in a group setting is not as rude as taking a call it seems.

Which made me think of what I think would be a great new tool: voice to text via cellular phone or handheld device. This could allow a voice-generated message to be converted to a text message, and sent to another party. A person who does not like to text (you know who) could benefit from this system and other parties would be able to receive messages without, say, rudely interrupting a meeting. They, in turn, could reply via text. The original party could reply with voice converting to text, and the conversation would be built so forth: both happy, both communicating effectively and efficiently.

I have used voice recognition programs on PC systems, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking. There are pros and cons, including background noise and vocabulary issues. They somewhat need to be “trained” for the user’s voice, but this technology is getting better and developers see a significant future in this technology.

My longing for this tool lead me to perform some research. I have an iPod touch, which I love, and have contemplated switching my cell to an iPhone. I’ve been waiting for the 3GB wireless network version. I spoke to Apple technical support representatives and an in-store representative. Voice-to-text programs are not offered but I believe one of the guys took notes as we talked.

Onto IBM. I thought that their voice-recognition product ViaVoice was possibly headed towards a cell-mobile platform. This is not in the making. They referred me to www.nuance.com, a provider of speech and imaging solutions for businesses consumers, who markets IBM’s voice related products. No such product is on the development table. Nuance Voice Control assists in navigating menus and web searches and allows very short e-mails, up to 20 characters, to be sent without typing. A call to their customer and technical support revealed that no voice-to-text features seem to be on the horizon.

I turned to Sprint. My eyebrows were raised when I began to read about Voice SMS. It looked promising. I further learned that you can indeed send another party a text message or e-mail generated from voice, but it is still a voice message in the end, with no text conversion involved. It simply “acts” like a text message, and without ringing their phone, goes to their text message inbox. Not the real deal as I envisioned it.

Next, I thought I’d go international. On my list was ORANGE Communications, a Europe-based firm known for progressive ideas in wireless products and services. No voice-to-text available.

My last try was Seoul, Korea where I had been told that the wireless services and networks are far more advanced than those of the U.S. The leading phone manufacturers LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, and Pantech had led me to the same conclusion, that voice to text is not available anywhere.

Enter Jott Networks. Co-founder John Pollard was a Senior Director in the Mobile Devices group at Microsoft. He also was with Cambridge Technology Partners, a rapid development systems integration team. Another co-founder, Shreedhar Madhavapeddi, worked with Microsoft in 1994 as a Software Engineer in the Windows Operating Systems team. He contributed significantly to the Mobile Information Server (now a part of MS-Exchange), Smartphone, and MSN Messenger.

Headquartered in Seattle, Washington, Jott Networks offers a voice to text service that allows users to send emails or text messages using voice communications. Before you can use the service, you have to add the recipient to your Jott contact manager. Once you’ve dialed a phone number from your mobile, you are asked the question “Who do you want to Jott today?” After you leave your voice message, the service sends an email, voice, or text message to the party of your choice. The party on the other end receives the original voicemail in addition to the text message. Jott emphasizes that if the transcribed text is unclear, the recipient can simply listen to your voice recording to clear matters up. A key feature is the ability to send one voice-text message to multiple people, not unlike a mass mailing. While this could be cumbersome, it is a step in the right direction.

Maybe I am missing something, but this could be a very productive mobile feature in which many users who are not  “thumb people”– cell-phone users who can send a detailed text message in the blink of an eye– could utilize to communicate in the future.

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