The most important voice commands for smart phone users

The other day I was trying to use a calling card and I needed to respond to a voice-activated prompt. Before I could get the word “English” out, I coughed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that,” the disembodied voice responded. “Please try again.”

Such is the state of speech recognition. Yet Telus on Tuesday offered a service called Telus Voice Control which uses technology from Nuance Communications to instantly access Web content and dialling. This was positioned as something coming out of Telus Business Solutions, so I immediately began thinking about how corporate users might take advantage of it.

Instead of getting sore thumbs from typing on a BlackBerry, for instance, information workers would simply dictate e-mail messages or ask aloud for directions to a business or to find a taxi service for $6 a month.

“To be honest, I didn’t know how to send an SMS on my BlackBerry until I used this,” admitted Telus spokeswoman Kara Kennedy. “This is useful for all the Web stuff, whether it’s finding a Web site or searching the weather.”

I’m sure those features could be useful to almost any consumer, but for business users I feel like there should be something more sophisticated than commands such as “sports: hockey” or “top news stories.” I asked Kennedy whether there might one day be the possibility of business users customizing Telus Voice Control so that it recognizes the specific name or even menu items of their most relevant internal applications.

“What it does allow you to do is to spell any Web site address,” she offered. “You could go to the Web site and then say, ‘BI sheet,’ for example.”

Not bad, but who wants to spell it out every time? Kennedy says Telus and Nuance have worked hard to make sure that users don’t have to “train” the system to recognize their particular voice or accent, but the tradeoff may be a lack of flexibility around managing voice command preferences.

Although it would obviously vary from one user to another, I tried thinking about the kind of standard commands an enterprise user might require in order to really use a smart phone to its fullest potential. Among the possibilities:

“Access desktop” – useful if they have installed GoToMyPC or similar programs
“Find File” – a lot of content is still stored in folders on a drive. This would be key for many people.
“Sales prospects” – pretty self-explanatory, but would offer a necessary short cut for everyone from the CEO on down.
“Campaign tracking” – might sound obtuse, but it’s just what a senior marketing exec would want to see.
“Update” – wouldn’t a one-word command be ideal for imputing data into a content management system, database or other information repository rather than hitting “enter?”
“Undo” – probably the most important command of all.

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