You’ve been talking to your cell phone for years, but it’s always been to the person on the other end. Thanks to a new breed of smartphone applications – or “apps” – there’s a good chance that some of your future conversations will be with the phone itself.
You’re probably familiar with smartphone navigation apps, where you simply speak an address or business name instead of typing it in. Or maybe you’ve used an app that lets you compose and send an email or text message by saying it. Even if your smartphone has a big QWERTY keyboard, it’s often easier, faster and safer to be able to speak a message or where you want to go, especially if you’re driving, walking or just have one hand holding a latte.
Now imagine if, instead of directions, the app could answer questions such as “What’s the interest rate on my mortgage?” or “How many text messages are left on my plan?” Increasingly, you will be able to. Some of these apps will be preloaded onto the phone by the manufacturer, as is the case with Siri on the iPhone 4S. Others will be available for download from app stores, such as Dragon Go!.
Don’t be surprised if a business you already use, such as a bank, soon offers you a speech-powered app or adds speech capabilities to the app you already use. To understand why businesses are bullish about speech-powered apps, it helps to look at the technology behind them.
For years, companies such as Nuance Communications have offered speech-recognition technology that enables professionals such as doctors to dictate information and have it automatically transcribed by a computer instead of a human. As PCs became more powerful, consumer versions of speech-recognition software arrived. These products often are referred to as “speech to text.”
The next advance is souping up that technology so it can do more than just take dictation. Suppose that your bank provides you with a speech-enabled app, and you want to know what your mortgage interest rate is, so you ask, “What’s my interest rate?”
Instead of responding with a list of semi-relevant links or information – such as “Our 30-year mortgage rate currently is 3.125%” – the speech-recognition technology would analyze what you said, look at your customer profile and respond, “Do you mean the interest rate for your mortgage? Or for your savings account?” With that additional information, the app now can tell you exactly what you want to know.
The app can pull off that feat because it does more than just look for matches between what you’ve said and the terms in your bank’s database. Instead, the technology is smart enough to be able to analyze your request and look for matches even when you don’t use the same terms that the banking industry uses.
This analysis benefits you by increasing the likelihood that the app’s response will be exactly what you’re looking for. Meanwhile, your bank benefits because you didn’t have to call to get that information. Each conversation you have with a live agent typically costs that business $5-$12, Forrester Research says. Those savings are among the reasons why speech-enabled apps are coming soon to a smartphone near you – if they’re not there already.