When it comes to designing intuitive, compelling user interfaces, Apple is hands-down the best. Starting with the Mac but most evident with each new generation of “i” products — iMac, iPod and iPhone — the company has demonstrated time and again what so many other device makers and mobile operators have failed to understand: It’s the UI, stupid! So when Apple features Voice Control in commercials for the newest iPhone 3GS, the mobile industry should sit up and take notice.
While the marriage of speech technologies and mobile is under way and irreversible, the transition won’t be a smooth one. First, many undoubtedly remember past speech applications that didn’t work very well. That perception will need to be overcome; implementing speech with simple applications, as Apple has done with Voice Control, is a good way to start. Secondly, some applications are more compatible with speech than others. Selecting and listening to music, for instance, is a natural application; the number of songs and artists is limited, which improves accuracy of speech recognition, and users typically listen to music in a closed environment or with a headset — hopefully with a built-in microphone — which reduces ambient noise and makes it easier for voice commands to be understood.
Much as RIM has carved out a loyal following by developing solutions optimized for email, there is a significant opportunity for operators and OEMs to incorporate speech into mobile devices and applications in a comprehensive way. Apple is leading the way, and others will likely follow suit.