Vlingo Gives Mobile Phones A New Voice

[qi:83] Most of us will agree that these days trying to do anything other than making plain vanilla phone calls and sending short messages on a regular 12-keypad mobile phone is an ordeal. The triple tapping gives the thumb muscles a complete workout. No wonder it needs a new interface.

Vlingo Corp., a Cambridge, Mass-based start-up thinks it has the answer – voice-based interface – and has introducing an eponymously named application to showcase its technology. The application allows mobile phone users to speak and look-up information such as local restaurant listings to film schedules.

The company is the brainchild of speech recognition technology veterans Mike Phillips and John Nguyen. Phillips started Speech Works that was acquired by Scan Soft, which acquired Nuance and then renamed itself, Nuance. It has raised $6.5 million in venture financing from Charles River Ventures.

Here is how it works:

Vlingo’s voice-powered interface lets users speak or type into any vlingo-enabled text box on their mobile phones. Once the application is installed and started, you can say, sushi restaurants in San Francisco, the app sends your voice clip over the mobile data channel to a datacenter, where the voice is put through speech recognition software running on a server.

Server converts voice to text, and the results are sent back to the phone. Voice-turned-into-text then populates the search text box, and you can hit search and find local listings. The application can work with other applications such as music stores preloaded on the phones.

I was fully expecting some seriously latency, and was surprised by how quickly the results came back over an EVDO enabled Sprint phone. The system also learns your voice patterns, and you can fix any errors by using the keypad, and system learns those as well.

Vlingo is a J2ME App and as a result it can work with other applications on the phone and populate their text boxes as well. We saw it working with the Sprint Music store, in a demo we go from
Dave Grannan, chief executive officer of the company.

While Vlingo, the application is a showcase, the company is hoping to sign-up mobile carriers and handset makers. He said that company’s technology is going to be particularly attractive for carriers.

Mobile phone companies have spent billions of dollars developing fast networks, and cobbling up services such as music stores, only to be stymied by the challenge of entering complex information through a limited a 12-keypad system, which we can use to enter the data. Vlingo is going to have some carrier-related announcements later this year.

Vlingo faces quite a few challenges, none bigger than Microsoft, which thanks to its $800 million-plus acquisition of Tell Me Networks, has made its intentions clear that it wants to dominate the voice-mobile interface business.

Most importantly, mobile phone users have to feel compelled to buy into this offering, which is going to result in some extra spending on data services.

Vlingo Corp Fact Sheet

Website Vlingo.com
Location Cambridge, Massachussets
Cofounders Mike Phillips, Nguyen
CEO David Grannan
Financing $6.5 million
Investors Charles River Ventures.
Business/industry Mobile, Telecom
Competitors Microsoft, VoiceSignal.