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Microsoft handhelds find their voice

The software maker unveils Voice Command, an add-on that lets people talk to Pocket PC devices that use Windows Mobile-based Pocket PC and Pocket PC Phone Edition.

Microsoft on Monday added voice controls to software for Pocket PC devices that use its Windows Mobile package.

Called Voice Command, the add-on lets Pocket PC users perform basic functions--such as getting calendar and contact information, making phone calls, and accessing applications--by issuing voice commands. The software also integrates with the handheld version of Microsoft's Media Player to allow voice-activated control of digital music playback.

The news of Microsoft's voice plans leaked out last week when Microsoft began soliciting beta testers for the software and Handango posted some details of the product on its Web site.

Companies like Microsoft and IBM have long been working on developing speech recognition, considered a natural way for people to access devices and the applications that run on them--and one of the thorniest challenges facing the high-tech world.

Microsoft said the new product lets consumers use natural language to control their Pocket PC device, instead of requiring them to use prerecorded verbal commands. Voice Command, which uses phonetic speech-recognition technology, was developed by Microsoft's Automotive Business Unit.

The new offering is available for $39.95 through the Handango and PocketPC Web sites that specialize in mobile software packages. It requires Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC and Pocket PC Phone Edition and ActiveSync 3.7 technology, and one of the following versions of Windows: XP, 2000, Millennium Edition and 98 Second Edition.