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IBM adds email, Web surfing to voice software

The company will introduce its next-generation speech recognition software tomorrow, updated to enhance Web navigation and verbal emails, the company said.

IBM will introduce its next-generation speech recognition software tomorrow, updated to enhance Web navigation and verbal emails, the company said.

Voice-recognition software like IBM's ViaVoice Millennium allows users to navigate the Web, switch applications, execute commands, and dictate emails and text documents using speech commands instead of keyboard strokes.

Although it has been slow to catch on, such software has been expected to piggyback on the skyrocketing popularity of faster and more powerful computers, which offer noticeably improved accuracy, and the expanding base of chat users. ViaVoice Millennium is optimized for AMD's high-end Athlon and Intel's Pentium III processors.

However, the use of these products has not yet become widespread, even though today there are computers in half of all U.S. homes, according to market research firm Odyssey. Less than 10 percent of all PC users use voice-recognition software, according to Ozzie Osborne, general manager of IBM's speech division.

That should change over the next five years, he said, as non-PC Internet devices such as handheld computers, smart cell phones, set-top boxes, Webpads, auto PCs, and home networks become more prevalent. Most users of nontraditional Internet appliances will prefer to use speech, rather than keyboards, to interact with these devices, he asserted.

"You're going to see it all over the place," Osborne said, referring to speech applications in smart devices. Currently the United States is the largest market for speech products, but Asian countries like China and Japan, which have large populations and alphabets ill-suited to Western keyboards, are an emerging market, Osborne added.

In the meantime, IBM is emphasizing ViaVoice Millennium's new Web-centric features. The software, which is integrated into both Microsoft and Lotus's office software suites, primarily sells to small and home-office users, Osborne said. The product comes in three versions: Standard Millennium, which is targeted at novice users; Web Millennium, for Internet enthusiasts; and Pro Millennium, which combines features from both.

The Web edition allows chat room users to chat using their voices rather than keyboards, Osborne said.

Available in stores tomorrow, ViaVoice Millennium starts at $59.95 for the Standard version, $79.95 for the Web Millennium edition, and $179 for the Pro Millennium edition. ViaVoice is preloaded on IBM's Aptiva and ThinkPad computers, but most units are purchased separately.

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