Speech Recognition on the iPhone, Via Vlingo

12/3/08Follow @wroush

Back in June, Cambridge, MA speech-recognition startup Vlingo rolled out software that lets Blackberry owners run their devices using voice commands instead of their thumbs—opening applications, dictating e-mails, entering terms into Web search engines, and the like. CEO Dave Grannan said at the time that Vlingo engineers were working on similar software for other devices, including the Apple iPhone. And now they’ve followed through on that promise.

Starting this morning, iPhone owners can download a free Vlingo app through the iTunes App Store. Much like the Blackberry software, the application lets users place phone calls to people in their contact lists by speaking their names, and initiate Web searches by speaking their search terms. (There’ a nice video here explaining all of the application’s features.) But unlike the Blackberry app, Vlingo’s iPhone app can also be used to search local business listings and see the results on a map—for example, by speaking an inquiry such as “movie theaters in Boston.” And it lets users dictate status-update messages that are posted instantly to their Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Vlingo iPhone AppVlingo’s iPhone app does, however, lack a few of the most useful features of its Blackberry cousin, notably the ability to dictate text messages and e-mails. Presumably, this is due to Apple’s decision to limit outside developers’ access to certain built-in iPhone programs like mail and SMS text-messaging, while providing extensive application programming interfaces for others, such as the Google Maps application.

Vlingo is a relative latecomer to speech-to-text game on the iPhone—Google, for example, added extensive speech recognition features in a recent update to its own Google Moblie App. But Vlingo claims that its mobile speech-recognition algorithms, which get better over time by incorporating user feedback, are the most accurate on the market. “We’re proud to debut our breakthrough voice recognition technology on iPhone, taking simplicity one step further by reducing much of the reliance on typing,” Grannan said in a Vlingo announcement released today.

I’ve been testing the Vlingo iPhone app for a couple of weeks, and will be writing up my review, along with a look at several other new mobile search applications, in my Friday “World Wide Wade” column.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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