Posts Tagged ‘voice recognition’

Not eyeballs, but ears

November 3rd, 2011 2 comments

If you remember earlier days of the internet, the discussion was often about eyeballs. How do I get more eyeballs looking at my site; how to I get them to stick around longer? Eyeballs were motivation for free services like Yahoo, and later Google, hoping to become the coveted homepage which would appear first whenever you opened your browser. Getting these eyeballs was about selling advertising through banner ads and then more sophisticated advertising.

Google was the most clever here, realizing that eyeballs weren’t free and that a homepage had to offer something of real value to users every time they used the internet. Used is important; sure the internet is a source of entertainment, but it’s also a place where we find things (including that entertainment) and answer questions. Google’s solution is to develop new and innovative ways to use the internet, like integrating all that search with the real world of mapping and route finding.

The business model for each of these companies hasn’t changed much since that original default homepage concept. Google has lead the way with adwords and microcontent, but if Google, (or Bing, or Yahoo) is the gateway to all that useful content from so many dozens of other companies such as Yelp, Wolfram Alpha, or, or this blog, they can collect advertising fees for their efforts.

Alert readers will already know where I am going with this by my choice of content providers (well, except this one). Apple’s iPhone 4S and Siri have done something more than just make voice recognition finally useful. (Note: I haven’t actually used it yet, but reports are that it does work pretty much as well as television commercials would lead us to believe.) They made a very clever end-run around Google and the other search engines. Using restaurant search from Yelp, a giant searchable database from Wolfram Alpha and local weather from, Siri replaces Google as a gateway to information in such a disruptive way, I’d be surprised if their competitors saw it coming.

Back in the day, companies competed for all those eyeballs, offering better and better services (targeted search, local weather reports, entertaining content) and figured they’d figure out a way to pay for it later. Perhaps they were all so focused on finally covering their costs that they didn’t even notice the rug being pulled out from under them. Although, it remains to be seen how Apple will pay for the content, it’s not like either Apple or can advertise when Siri tells a user to bring an umbrella. Still, holding the key to the treasure trove of information on the internet is, as Google can tell you, very powerful indeed. If voice-initiated internet search takes a significant share, it behooves companies to start thinking about how that effects their promotional strategy, before the next unexpected disruption comes.

Smug satisfaction of being right

October 5th, 2011 No comments

So that is why people like to predict the future. It’s because of the overwhelmingly smug satisfaction we get from being right! After all, we rarely highlight being wrong, so I get to claim an unblemished record for now.

Yesterday I made some predictions about the tech moment of the day: the Apple iPhone announcement. I predicted Apple wouldn’t change the form factor, that they’d upgrade the hardware making it faster and improving the camera, and that the presentation would focus on the new software, iOS 5 and its capabilities. I even mentioned that voice activation might be the surprise that steals the show.

I guess you could say I nailed it. But wasn’t it too easy this time? Frankly, I am not such a huge fan of the current form factor for the iPhone. The glass on the back of my phone is cracked, the phone is less comfortable to hold and more difficult to tactily find the front/top of than it used to be. Tech pundits didn’t want to solve any of these problems, they wanted a bigger screen, because, well, other phones have a bigger screen.

The iPhone has a fantastic screen. Probably the best screen out there. It’s not bigger, but it does display more pixels than almost any other, and I am quite surprised, actually, that folks really want to carry around even bigger phones. Isn’t miniaturization one of technology’s magic bullets?

Apple did exceed my expectations though. Check out what they’ve done with their acquisition of Siri for voice control. I am dubious about talking to my phone as I see people do on their Android phones. It goes like this: press a few buttons and load the application. Stare at the screen for a moment to ensure that it’s ready. Speak your phrase into the phone, slowly and carefully: “F i n d p e e t z a h” Wait. “F i n d p e e t z a h” Wait. “F e y e n d p e e e t z z a a a h”, go to the maps application and type pizza into the search field and continue on with your business. It barely works, not terribly convenient when it does, and it’s a bit odd and certainly unacceptable in a wide variety of situations to ask your phone for that sort of thing. I have “voice control” on my phone. I’ve used it, let me see, never.

With Siri, though, I started to have the same thought I had when Apple introduced the iPhone. Four years ago I saw the commercials of the way it scrolled and opened applications and above all how effective and useful the web was on it and thought “if it actually works that well, that’s really something I’d get.” At the time I had a Windows Mobile 5 phone that I’d learned was really just a large, blocky phone that got my e-mails. You could surf the web, but you really wouldn’t want to do that to yourself, just as you can use google voice, but it’s not really worth doing.

If, on the other hand, I find myself in an Apple store in front of an iPhone 4S and try out Siri and it really does work like that, well, maybe I’ll stop being such a luddite about this voice stuff. My contract’s got about another year. By then the iPhone 5 (or something really competitive) might be out. I can always talk to my phone in the car. There no one can hear my conversation about not having any friends because I smugly think I am right all the time.