Speech recognition offered for handhelds

/ Source: The Associated Press

For now, something like "Call Mom" is the most advanced voice command that most cell phones can handle. A maker of speech-recognition software for personal computers hopes to change that.

Nuance Communications Inc. is trying to line up wireless carriers for a new service allowing hands-free, speech-to-text messages or e-mails of nearly unlimited length, as well as voice-command Web browsing and music downloads.

Nuance is hardly the first to predict an end to awkward abbreviations in brief messages typed using thumbs. But speech-recognition capability in cell phones has largely been confined to dumping a few voice commands into a phone's memory to enable hands-free dialing.

"The technology is getting better, but we haven't seen a truly meaningful product yet," said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecommunications analyst.

Kagan said the time is ripe for introducing more robust speech recognition in handheld devices because growth in bandwidth capacity has enabled ever-larger amounts of data to be exchanged wirelessly.

Nuance concedes its system — which would require connection with a remote server that has its software — is vulnerable to background noise interference. But Nuance says its technology has the same 99 percent speech-to-text conversion accuracy that the company claims for its latest personal-computer software.

Burlington, Mass.-based Nuance plans to introduce the technology next week at a conference in Las Vegas.

A beta version is being tested by about 10 cellular carriers, and Nuance expects various features to reach the market in stages over the next year. Prices haven't been set, but the service could be offered as an add-on to cellular product menus.