In my opinion, one of the big advantages that Android has over iOS is in the area of integrated voice recognition services. Anybody that has used the Voice Search capability of Google’s iOS app knows that they have a really strong offering in this area. That same voice tech is implemented throughout the Android OS, and is very easy to use. Unfortunately, other than the release of Voice Control in iOS 3.0, which is a pretty basic offering covering a limited set of uses, Apple has ignored speech-to-text technology. While there is reason for hope since Apple acquired Siri, maker of one of the best integrated speech-to-text apps for iOS, last year, we have yet to see any results.
Thankfully, the free market has now stepped into this speech gap in the form of Nuance and their newly released Self-Service Mobile Developer Program. Nuance is well known to the iOS community, thanks to their very robust Dragon Dictation and Dragon Search apps, both of which are highly rated and available for free in the App Store. Nuance has actually made their speech-to-text technology available for app developers before, via their Dragon Mobile SDK. This tech currently powers apps such as Siri, Price Check by Amazon, Ask for iPhone, aisle411, Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, and SpeechTrans.
With their new Self-Service program, Nuance is making their speech technology easier to implement and use for developers large and small, which is explained in their press release.
The Nuance Mobile Developer Program gives developers instant access to easy-to-integrate prepackaged wrappers and widgets for rapid inclusion of voice recognition into their applications, all through a self-service website. Developers also have access to an on-line forum for additional support, a variety of code samples and full documentation.
This ease of use, combined with Nuance’s comprehensive speech offerings, which includes speech-to-text in 7 languages and text-to-speech in more than 35, could make this service quite popular. The main determining factors in whether this is a success will be Nuance’s pricing for the licensing and use of their technology, and whether Apple steps in at some point with an OS level speech-to-text offering of their own.
With a way for speech-to-text to finally be more widely implemented in iOS apps, what would you like to see addressed? I do a lot of driving for work, so there are l lot of uses I can think of. I used to be a Jott subscriber (which, ironically, is now owned by Nunace), and was able to use that service to set Google Calendar appointments and Toodledo tasks while driving from their app or via a phone call. I haven’t been a user for over a year now, so I would love to have some of that functionality back. I do some of my best project planning while behind the wheel, but pulling over to input my thoughts immediately, or trying to remember them until I stop the car is a real pain. If I could get Nuance text-to-speech in WebIS’s Pocket Informant, I would be a VERY happy man.
An even bigger need for any frequently traveling iOS user is in the GPS arena. I am a huge fan of iOS navigation apps, and either I own or have tried many of the ones in the App Store. Unfortunately, none of them have any kind of speech-to-text capabilities included at this time. This isn’t too surprising, considering how difficult that tech is to develop from the ground up. Maybe with an offering like Nuance’s out there in the iOS marketplace, we will start to see speech-to-text pop up in the place that it absolutely make the most sense. What could be more useful than being able to ask your GPS app of choice where the nearest gas station or Starbucks is while headed down the Interstate?
This announcement may not amount to anything in the end, but I certainly hope it does. I hope we see apps of all kinds, especially those that may be used while people are driving, integrating speech technology. If Nuance plays their cards right, and Apple doesn’t step in with their own offering in iOS 5, their Self Service Mobile Developer Program could have a real impact on the App Store.
I would love to hear what you think. What apps or types of app would you like to see implement Nuance’s speech tech? Have you used Nuance’s Dragon apps? If so, what do you think of them?
Nuance’s press release for their new Mobile Developer Program can be found here.