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Voice 2.0 is all talk .. and data, video and IM, too!

Communication is now all about voice, data, video and IM (Instant Messaging) these days, most of which are easier said than done. And therein lies the problem — all of these mediums require different needs, different approaches and different ways of being used. But maybe there’s one way of making them work together?

Much has been the speculation of late with regards Google getting into the mobile phone market, variously referred to as the “gPhone”. Personally, I don’t really know what to think about that rumour.

There’s little doubt that Google have a good spread of services that they could bring to such a device, as is evident from what they’ve done with Apple’s iPhone — making Google Maps a pier service on the iPhone.

But whether Google want to come out with their own mobile phone is anyone’s guess, which includes Davor Prcovich who recently gave some thought to the gPhone:

“Google already owns some popular web services: YouTube, Blogger, Gmail, Google Earth, Google Maps and many more smaller services within the Google portal. Another rumour that has been spreading on the Internet is that google is about to make it’s own version of a mobile phone device called ‘gPhone’. It is very likely that gPhone is going to be similar to Apple’s iPhone and it will use same touch-sensitive technology iPhone uses.”

To which I replied:

“Who says the gPhone has to compete with the iPhone? After all, there’s a Googler on the Apple board, so it’s worth giving that relationship some consideration. Additionally, the iPhone makes good use of current Google services like Google Maps. And with Google Transit coming out of the labs recently, look out for some extra map features on the iPhone. If it is the case that Google are hoping to get into the mobile phone market, their strategy could be similar in scale & scope to their software — simple, arguably basic, no-frills but highly utilitarian…”

I’m not doubting Davor’s angle, which is entirely plausible and in line with my own thinking. However, the space that Apple occupy with the iPhone isn’t guaranteed to be the place to be:

“For all its glitz and glamour, Apple’s iPhone is still only a stopgap. People want a phone that costs less than $50 and lets them call anywhere for less than $30 per month, and they know that it is coming.”

Here’s where the early movers would create a hugely disruptive wave of cost-cutting, rippling right around the globe. And here’s where Google could certainly make a mobile phone play, if an ad-supported one.

All fingers & thumbs: I want to talk to my mobile phone

OK, so what about actually using something like a gPhone, or how about improving the iPhone? There’s no doubt that Apple have done a good job with the iPhone, but technology marches on and mobile communications could always be better:

“Consumers also know that the confluence of voice, IM (instant messaging), text messaging, email, Web browsing and video calling is simultaneously enriching and confusing communications. Until one system and one device can handle all forms of communication, there isn’t a complete solution.”

From a usability point of view, you can’t really simplify all of those things without throwing some of the functionality away. So it’s a question of which market you intend going after, rather than just trying to squeeze everything into one ‘convergence’ device.

Those familiar with technology are the ones who’d make the most of a convergence mobile device. But the regular guy in the street would probably struggle with voice, data, video and IM. Chances are, they might not even need all of those things in the first place.

However, one thing that would massively simplify the data entry aspect would be speech-to-text; removing almost entirely the need to type, and handing the mobile phone back to the voice, negating the need of opposable thumbs .. ‘cept for actually holding the phone.

As an example, IBM have been working on Speech-to-Text technologies for years. So the technology is there. However, accents and regional dialects abound, which bring their own verbose baggage.

Short of introducing Queens English onto the school curriculum for England & Wales, the technology just has to be smart enough to work with the words being spoken.

If what you’re saying can make its way onto the screen of your mobile phone, that’s when you’re making use of the most efficient means of human data transfer there is, short of throwing books at people, or hitting them with a filing cabinet.

Let’s face it, if you’ve got people like IBM and Microsoft throwing their hat into this particular ring, rest assured, in terms of speech recognition being a problem looking for a solution, it’s not one that’s lost for words, or left speechless…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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