Your computer may finally be able to hear you now.
Voice recognition has been techdom's dimmest hour.
Sure, many companies have tried to offer speech-to-text transcription.
has dabbled with speech recognition in various riffs of its Windows XP and Vista operating systems, and it even bought a mobile speech company called
Nuance Communications now owns the Naturally Speaking brand -- investors of a certain vintage will remember the spectacular 2001 flameout of Belgium-based Learnout & Hauspie, which owned the technology then. And there are start-ups in the field. The heavily promoted
SimulScribe, for example, can turn any voice mail into a text message that plays on most any mobile phone from say,
Mobile Email Solution
As the media world's worst typist, I have tried most of these tools in hopes of juicing my pallid keyboard productivity. But these yearnings have been consistently quashed. Speech to text either has been too slow, clunky or inaccurate to make it worth the trouble.
Others clearly agree. Despite almost unbelievable hype, for example, SimulScribe is used by only 20,000 active subscribers in North America, a company spokesperson says, despite the fact that most every one of the 250 million phones in North America can access the service. And I rarely meet anyone who even knows that Microsoft ships voice rec software to more than 500 million users worldwide.
However, there may be a ray of hope in the speech rec mess. Recently I have been testing a quirky little voice recognition product called
Jott. While it is way far from perfect, Jott is a modest service that offers some tantalizing capabilities, particularly for the small business looking for a mobile email solution.
And you can't beat the price -- the beta, as of now, is free.
Jott gives the voice recognition business a Web-based spin. It offers this one simple ability: Send an email via a phone call. Simply log in to jott.com or call the 800 number, open an account and attach it to a working phone number. Then answer a few questions, tie the account to your business or personal email, enter the numbers of colleagues you want to be able to send messages to, and you're good to go.
How It Works
Using the service is dead easy. Call the 800 number and tell the voice-activated prompt who you want to send a message to. Wait for all the tones. Speak clearly into the phone -- don't worry, you get a couple of tries -- and keep your message shorter than 30 seconds. Jott transcribes the call, puts a copy on its Web site where you can review it and sends the message to the number you provided during sign up and a confirmation to your email.
Jott managed to figure out roughly what I was saying right from the start. No training needed to have the thing know who you were. And the quality of the transcription from voice to text, while not perfect, is reasonable enough for a rough email. I especially like the Jott-to-myself function. I dialed the 800 number on my cell phone, voiced a note to myself and got a very nice reminder in my email.
Snags and Hang-ups
Now obviously, don't go nuts with Jott. Really. If you try to use the system from a phone not registered on the service, it will ask you to qualify your identity with each call. So each phone you use heavily would probably require a fresh Jott account, with contacts that need to be entered and tracked for each. What a pain.
Also, the system does clutter up your email inbox. And in my testing in noisy environments, like in the car with the windows open and in the mall, accuracy took a beating. Clearly there will be no Jotting in loud public spots.
Let's get this clear: I would never trust this service with an important message to say a client. It's just not accurate enough quite yet. But for basic chatter like emailing your team, or your significant other, in a clutch, I found Jott to be handy. Particularly for the small business looking for a cheap way to stay in touch on the go without pricey data plans and smart phones, Jott is certainly worth a try.
At the end of the day, Jott is not a bad voice recognition product. And in this field, that is saying a lot.
Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.