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Tellme expands voice search for mobile devices

New searches also possible with text from mobile

By Matt Hamblen
April 17, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Tellme Networks Inc. announced today expanded services that will enable use of voice or text from a mobile phone to find specific businesses or business categories, such as flower shops, in a specific town.

Tellme Networks is being purchased by Microsoft Corp., which views the services announced today as an indication of the future of speech as an interface to all manner of computing applications.

All the new services announced today are free to users. However, Tellme is venturing into supporting the services through advertising that is deemed "unobtrusive" by users, said Megan Dyer, a Tellme spokeswoman.

One of the services, called Tellme by Mobile, will allow users to download a beta version of Tellme’s software to a mobile phone, Dyer said. Then, a mobile user would speak a request for a business name or category, and the results would be displayed on the phone screen in text, with links to a map and driving directions.

Another service, Tellme by Text, allows a user to send a text message via a mobile phone to request much the same information, Dyer said. For example, a user who texts, "pizza boston ma" to TELLM (83556) would receive a text message with a listing and link to a map showing the location of a chosen restaurant. A business can pay for a priority listing, meaning the business will get highlighted on a list of similar businesses, Dyer said.

The third service, Tellme by Voice, allows a user to call 1-800-555-TELL and to say "business search" to find a specific business or a category, such as "flower shops," Dyer said. That number is already being used to give users information for sports scores, movie listings and stock prices but has recently been expanded to support business search.

Microsoft announced it was purchasing Tellme on March 14, and the deal is expected to close in several weeks, Dyer said. Financial details were not disclosed. At the time, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer described the importance of the acquisition, saying, "speech ... holds incredible promise as a key interface for computing.”

Ballmer said the acquisition would give Microsoft new capabilities to deliver new products for human-computer interaction. Over time, Tellme technology is expected to enhance the Windows Vista operation system, Office, Windows Mobile and Windows Automotive, Microsoft said in a statement.

Tellme, with about 300 employees, is expected to continue as a business unit within Microsoft, operating from its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. It has been operating since 1999 and introduced in 2002 the long-distance information service 1-800-555-1212, which provides voice-activated information.

Neal Polachek, an analyst at Kelsey Group in Princeton, N.J., said the voice interface and mobile search technologies will continue to grow, noting that Google Inc. recently announced its own test of voice-enabled mobile search on the Google Labs site. Yahoo Inc. is expected to follow suit, he said.

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