Future Phones: Let Your Fingers Do the Talking

When it comes to mobile phones, it’s all about touch screens — this year. But what will they look like in four or five years? I recognize that in 25 years they’ll be implanted into our bodies, à la Ray Kurzweil’s thesis, but how will we we improve upon them in the meantime?

Since Apple has scored the touch crown, Samsung is going hands-free. It’s filed for a patent to let your fingers do the talking — simply wave them in some predetermined way to, for example, pull up a phone number, navigate the web or play music. The patent is focused on how the phone’s camera is used to translate the hand signals and then deliver those instructions to the device for execution. For an example of how this could go wrong, think back to the movement-controlled radios in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (the book, not the movie).

If your fingers can’t walk the talk, then it’s up to voice. Nuance Communications along with an undisclosed OEM are playing around with a button-less phone that will be entirely voice-controlled. I love using speech instead of my hands, but since the Nuance-powered voice recognition on my BlackBerry Pearl consistently offers to call my friend Trudy every time I ask it to call Om, I’m a little concerned about how that will work. C’mon Nuance, I can see confusing Om with Home, but Trudy? I don’t get it.

So touch, talk or sign, when it comes to mobile phones, it’ll be whatever pushes your buttons.

Image courtesy of cellpassion.com

Vlingo Gets $20M and Exclusive Yahoo Deal

Speech recognition company Vligno has scored a $20 million second round of funding led by Yahoo, and through a relationship with the search company, access to 600 million cell phone subscribers worldwide. As I noted earlier, Yahoo said today it will use Vlingo to power the voice recognition for its oneSearch mobile search product.

“We like the technology so much we made sure our competitors can’t use it,” explained Marco Boerries, president of Yahoo Mobile. Boerries declined to say how much Yahoo put into Vlingo, but said the company had exclusive use of the technology for mobile search.

Hooking its star to Yahoo puts Vlingo in the same league as Microsoft — which offers mobile carriers speech recognition technology derived from its TellMe acquisition — and singlespeech-focused search company Nuance Communications, which is cultivating carrier relationships as well.

Vlingo Working With Sprint, AT&T

Vlingo, a Cambridge, MA-based start-up that has developed voice-based interface for mobile phones is working with AT&T and Sprint, according to The New York Times. Both wireless carriers are testing an app called, The Find, which allows you to speak and search for local business information, songs or some web information.

I wrote about the company back in August 2007 and was quite impressed. What I like about the company (and others like it) is that we need to figure out a way to make the complicated-phones of today easier to use.

That said, Vlingo has some challenges: the market is very crowded and more players keep entering the business including some with deep pockets. For example, Nuance, the voice recognition giant, that in recent weeks has been talking up its mobile strategy.