10 Smartphone Apps You Can Talk To - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Mobile // Mobile Applications
07:06 AM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
Connect Directly

10 Smartphone Apps You Can Talk To

Voice recognition may finally get the recognition it deserves.
1 of 10

(Image: SoundHound)

(Cover image: Sigal Suhler Moran/iStockphoto)

(Image: SoundHound)

(Cover image: Sigal Suhler Moran/iStockphoto)

Typing on a mobile phone is not fun. It works, but it's not very fast or accurate, particularly if you're thumb-typing or on the move.

Talking works better. Phones were designed for talking, after all. But many of us still don't feel comfortable addressing our phones directly. A 2014 Northstar Research study commissioned by Google surveyed 1,400 Americans and found that "only one-quarter of adults speak to their phones when in the company of others." It's as if we're ashamed to be caught talking with our imaginary phone friend.

Among teens, there's less stigma. Fifty-seven percent of them will query their phones when among other people. So, expect voice interaction to become more common as the population ages and people become accustomed to the idea.

Speech recognition is approaching its idealized depiction in science fiction. In 2011, Microsoft researchers considered an error rate of 18.5% "astonishing." At Google I/O last month, Sundar Pichai, SVP of product at Google, said the speech recognition error rate for Google's software had reached 8%, down from 23% in 2013.

The technology is certainly usable today, even if we tend to use it for specific types of queries, such as initiating calls and asking for directions. For example, only 9% of adults use voice search to check movie times, according to the Northstar Research study.

Ongoing technological advancements suggest voice interaction with software-based assistants will become even easier and more useful as companies create code that not only recognizes speech, but can also interpret complex questions.

SoundHound recently invited beta testers to an app called Hound, currently available on Android and soon on iOS, that attempts to turn speech recognition into meaning recognition. As with the Google app and Siri, Hound can recognize when a query refers to a previous query, as when the word "there" in the query, "Is there a seafood restaurant near there?" refers to a prior question about a location.

Hound appears to be particularly adept at figuring out how to interpret queries with multiple parameters, like this one: "Show me four- or five-star hotels in Seattle for three nights starting on Friday between a $150 and $200 dollars a night."

Or this one: "What is the mortgage on a $600,000 home using an interest rate of 4% over a 30-year period, with a down payment of $120,000."

Google can recognize these words and point you to a list of mortgage sites, but Hound will present detailed mortgage calculation figures as an answer. For the kinds of data and queries that Hound understands, Hound offers something approaching voice-based programming -- you're supplying data to a known function.

In the years to come, with speech recognition nearly a solved problem, the focus will be on improving the interpretation of meaning. And, once your devices understand your intention as well as your words, the possibilities of voice-based interaction become much more interesting.

You don't have to wait that long. Here are 10 voice apps worth trying out now.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
1 of 10
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Susan Fourtané
Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
6/8/2015 | 9:45:51 AM
Speech recognition with translation technology
I don't see this taking off at enterprise level. Executives need to speak a common language to conduct their business. This could be useful, though, when travelling, when you need to ask for information to locals who don't speak English. -Susan
11 Things IT Professionals Wish They Knew Earlier in Their Careers
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  4/6/2021
Time to Shift Your Job Search Out of Neutral
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  3/31/2021
Does Identity Hinder Hybrid-Cloud and Multi-Cloud Adoption?
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  4/1/2021
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Current Issue
Successful Strategies for Digital Transformation
Download this report to learn about the latest technologies and best practices or ensuring a successful transition from outdated business transformation tactics.
Flash Poll