Microsoft's answer to the "Siri" voice personal assistant will be included in the Windows Phone 8 release, as voice-recognition technology continues to evolve.
The next version of the Windows Phone operating system will add voice command technology similar to Siri on the Apple iPhone 4S, both of which signal the growing sophistication of voice-recognition technology, according to industry observers.
The Microsoft technology was demonstrated for software developers attending the Windows Phone Summit June 20 in San Francisco where Microsoft unveiled the Windows 8 Platform Preview, a major update of the Windows Phone 7 operating system rolled out in 2010.
It will not just open applications, but it allows a user to execute voice commands within an application, as Kevin Gallo, developer platform general manager in Microsofts Windows Phone Division, demonstrated at the event.
Gallo kept referring to the system as Audible, but that was just for demo purposes; the final Microsoft technology will go by another yet-to-be-chosen name, a Microsoft spokesperson explained.
Audible is an app already available in the Windows Phone Marketplace from the Audible.com service, owned by Amazon, that lets users download audio books. Gallo said Microsofts version of Audible is going to become available to every developer to create their own apps that use voice recognition and commands on Windows Phone 8 devices.
Gallo used Audible to open an audio book of Game of Thrones. Things didnt start out so well when Gallo opened with Audible, play Game of Thrones, and Audible inexplicably replied, Searching for Saint Louis, Missouri. Gallo quickly recovered and successfully opened the audio book. He then said Audible, next chapter and the book skipped to the next chapter. After listening to the audio book for a few seconds, he then said, Pause and the book playback stopped.
Not only was I able to launch the application using speech, but I was also able to give it a command, and control its behavior when I started it, Gallo told the audience. I basically had a conversation with my app ¦ and got to exactly what I wanted without having to touch the screen.
Although voice command technology isnt perfect and doesnt work as flawlessly as it appears to in TV ads, it continues to improve, said Scott Ellison, a mobile industry analyst practice leader at IDC.
Touch was the last major innovation when it comes to a lot of mobile devices ¦ and now youre seeing a lot of focus on voice, driven by what Apples been able to do with Siri, said Ellison.
Siri has similar capabilities to Audible, though Gallo said one differentiator is that Audible works within apps. Siri can help an iPhone 4S user make a call, respond to text messages, get directions and perform other tasks. And Siri has generated considerable buzz since it came out with the new phone in the fall of 2011, including popular TV ads featuring actors such as John Malkovitch, Zooey Deschanel and Samuel L. Jackson, prompting countless parody videos on You Tube.
While voice-command or speech-recognition technology is still evolving, Siri and Audible indicate that it is starting to come of age. According to the Website Quora, an online reference source, Siri is based on a project called CALO that was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and was part of DARPA's Personalized Assistant that Learns (PAL) initiative.
Robert Mullins is a freelance writer for eWEEK who has covered the technology industry in Silicon Valley for more than a decade. He has written for several tech publications including Network Computing, Information Week, Network World and various TechTarget titles. Mullins also served as a correspondent in the San Francisco Bureau of IDG News Service and, before that, covered technology news for the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal. Back in his home state of Wisconsin, Robert worked as the news director for NPR stations in Milwaukee and LaCrosse in the 1980s.