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IBM adds ViaVoice to more PCs

Big Blue expands the number of systems shipping with its ViaVoice speech recognition software.

    IBM refreshed its line of Aptiva consumer PCs today, introducing new models featuring Big Blue's ViaVoice speech recognition software.

    IBM is hoping that the new systems, which range from $899 basic systems with AMD processors, to $1,799 Pentium II 400-MHz multimedia powerhouses, cover the range of home users, from families with children to telecommuters.

    "One of the things that's been fairly consistent [for IBM] is our spread of products," said Brian Connors, vice president of the Aptiva group. "If you look at the range of products, the spread doesn't change much. The average selling price moves down over time, but the range is consistent."

    IBM today has expanded the number of systems shipping with its ViaVoice speech recognition software. Speech recognition has been targeted by analysts as a consumer-friendly application that actually uses the power and memory that the PC industry is cranking out at rapidly decreasing prices.

    "It's kind of a chicken-and-egg thing," Connors said. "You plant the seed to create the need."

    Speech recognition applications such as ViaVoice are fairly taxing on system requirements, demanding at least a 166-MHz processor and 32MB of memory for bare-bones performance, with studies indicating that the accuracy of these programs actually increases with processor speed and memory. That's why ViaVoice was previously only included on IBM's priciest and most powerful consumer systems.

    "The high-end technology has come down in price so that more people can exploit this more natural way of computing," Connors said. Today's lower-price computers, such as IBM's $1,099 Aptiva E3U, with an AMD K6-2/350 MHz processor and 64MB of memory, should easily handle the system requirements of these applications.

    In fact, Connors acknowledged that the new $899 Aptiva E2U, with an AMD K6-2/333-MHz processor and 48MB of memory, could adequately handle ViaVoice, although the application is not included.

    ViaVoice "definitely creates a level of differentiation between the base level and the step up," Connors said. "Clearly things migrate with time. I wouldn't discount seeing it migrate over time (to the lower end systems)."

    IBM also introduced the Aptiva E5U for $1,399, with a 350-MHz Pentium II processor, 96MB of memory, 8GB hard drive, DVD-ROM drive, and ViaVoice. The priciest system introduced today, the $1,799 Aptiva E6U, features a 400- MHz Pentium II, 128MB of memory, 13.5GB hard drive, DVD-ROM, and Via Voice.

    Big Blue only recently reentered the high end of the consumer market. In July, it introduced the 400-MHz Aptiva E5D, and then in August rolled out the Cobra, a sleek high-end box for $2,399.

    "We (PC makers) had been in the doldrums for the last year, on price," Connors said. "But I think there's a level of disappointment there [for consumers] with base-price systems. Now it's about going above the base-price attributes, while not paying a premium, but helping to create a platform and solution for different lifestyles?People aren't only buying $799 and $999 systems, that's for sure."