Microsoft Corp.'s Tellme subsidiary launched an application for the BlackBerry on Tuesday that lets people speak commands into their smartphones to search for businesses, look up movie times, check traffic and make other queries.
Once users download the program, they can push on their phone's green "talk" button and say either the name of a business, type of business, or the keywords "weather," "movies," "traffic," "map" or "driving directions."
Using GPS, the system figures out where the user is located and delivers nearby results from Microsoft's Live Search engine to the smartphone's screen, along with links to call, get directions, buy movie tickets and other related actions.
The program only works on some of Research in Motion Ltd.'s newer BlackBerry models. Tellme, which Microsoft acquired in 2007 for $800 million, said versions for Helio, Windows Mobile and Apple Inc.'s iPhone devices are in the works.
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The Tellme program's launch comes just weeks after Yahoo Inc. unveiled a new version of its mobile search system, oneSearch 2.0, which includes voice search and is also designed to work with certain BlackBerry models.
"People are getting more frustrated with the fact that these cell phones are getting smaller and smaller, but more and more function is getting crammed into them," Mike McCue, founder and general manager of Tellme, said in an interview. "To try to get anything done — navigate through all these menus — it takes time. To try to do that while driving, walking, on the go, is very challenging."
McCue said his team hopes to add sports scores, train schedules, voice dialing, text-message dictation and other functions to the service in the future.
He also said that while Tellme's technology is separate from Microsoft's Sync system, which lets drivers use their voice to control phones, music players and other devices in some Ford car models, the two experiences will become much more similar.
The application was launched on the BlackBerry first, instead of Microsoft's own platform, because of BlackBerry's support for the Java programming language, according to McCue.
The system is advertising-free for now, but eventually, ads will be incorporated, according to Dariusz Paczuski, a senior director at Tellme.
Mountain View, Calif.-based Tellme's voice technology also powers AT&T and Verizon's 411 directory services, as well as automated customer service systems used by companies including Domino's Pizza and American Airlines.