Although the business community mourns the loss of Steve Jobs, we must also passionately celebrate his unique method of creativity and insightful ability to anticipate consumer desires unlike any competitors. His vision and products have actually given way to new industries and expertise that will echo exponentially for decades to come. In fact, it is ironic that Jobs passed away just the day after the announcement of the iPhone4s because within this product lies a very special element which he helped shaped that, while he will not be able to see its usage and development, actually heralds the next generation in smartphones. This element could have a titanic effect on mobile commerce in the months to come and, overall, points to a much larger trend for which few can even begin to fully define its future business impact.
Voice meet phone, phone meet voice.
But far from the traditional conversation usage.
Instead, think of using your voice to speak to your phone as a personal assistant-of-sorts; a true hand-held computer that can carry out tasks. Apple’s Voice-Control feature/app entitled Siri is a nice addition and only the tip of the iceberg of what we will begin to see regarding voice interface and the mobile phone. With Siri, for example, one can ask everything from the weather to dictionary terms and receive answers from the phone.
Cool, yes; but the real point-to-watch is how voice interface will expand business transaction. And several visionaries are hard at work right now push the envelope. Pat Higbie, EVP Corporate Development at Xtone Networks (www.xtone.com) based in Virginia is the driving force behind adoption of the company’s mission to marry voice and commerce. “At Xtone we firmly believe people want the option to use their voices to interact with mobile apps and content,” explains Higbie. “Voice is more convenient for quick content and transactions, and it’s more usable on-the-go: driving, walking, exercising, shopping. In fact, Google reports that 25% of searches from Android 2.0 devices use voice. Conversing with an app means you can complete complex tasks by talking and listening (i.e., hands-free and eyes-free),” Higbie says. Claiming superiority to Apple’s Siri, Google Voice Actions, Vlingo or Windows 7,; Xtone says its conversational interfaces are programmable to enable task completion of any complexity from paying a bill, booking a plane reservation, buying a song.”
However, many are predicting that the real-game changer in voice will be the advent of real-time mobile voice translation actually converging with mobile transaction. Globalization is fueling the need for language translation like never before and much of translation is forecast to take place across mobile and commerce-centric. According to Common Sense Advisory is an independent Massachusetts-based market research company, the convergence of mobile voice and transaction will be astronomical. Rebecca Ray, Senior Analyst at the organisation says, “Person-to-person money transfers are projected to become one of the most-used mobile applications in many countries over the next two to three years, rising to around 600 billion euros by 2015. Juniper Research now estimates that Africa, APAC, and the Middle East will represent 84% of the total mobile money user base by 2013, with Africa and the Middle East accounting for the major part of that. However, in order to connect people and their money to other people and their money, along with commerce sites, means that people must be able to communicate in their own language.”
She continues, “Language will be one of this industry’s biggest challenges.This means that companies won’t get very far, for example, in many areas of Asia or Africa, unless they address localisation issues, including language.”
However, one particular organisation seems to be at the forefront of such developments. Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) [NYSE: SAI] is a scientific, engineering, and technology applications company also based in Virginia that is preparing to release consumer domain translation applications within the next two months. Jonathan Litchman, Senior Vice President, SAIC explains, “Commerce is not a generalized language. Commerce has word meanings specific to what you are buying, whether a car or a prescription. Because of this, domain specific mobile translation is going to become increasingly important for cross-lingual mobile commerce.” He continues, “Thus, the ease of mobile devices to communicate across languages is going to become important for mobile commerce. Business activities are going to happen when devices are not connected to the internet, and there will be value in an application that can operate without a signal.”
Hassan Sawaf, Chief Scientist for Linguistics and Cultural Intelligence, SAIC adds, “Hybrid machine translation combines both rule and statistical translation methods. This means it needs fewer resources than a strictly statistical approach and can deliver new languages in a shorter amount of time. From a commerce perspective, the ability to quickly and efficiently add languages allows users to access new markets irrespective of the language barrier.” (www.saic.com)
But some in the mobile industry suggest a more cautious outlook. Ross Rankin, COO of TripLingo (www.triplingo.com) a language mobile applications development company says, “I believe today’s smartphones do not have the power, storage, and capabilities to do real translations. Many use cloud services, that push the processing over the internet to large clusters of machines to do the work. Which is fine but with data caps, data roaming charges, and spotty coverage this limits their use.” He adds, ” I really think in the short-term (voice interface) will have a very limited impact. It will be a novelty versus a real game changer.” However, given the fact that technology progresses exponentially (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law), the safest bet may be to look not at the moment at hand, but just always slightly ahead as Steve Jobs did.
In fact, we will only be able to guess at how Steve Jobs might have interwoven and further expanded voice interface as the years passed. However, one thing is certain, that there are savvy pioneers already in play who see the vision and will likely become vital components within the mobile voice interface revolution.
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