The Microsoft Voice Command brings to the Pocket PC world that feeling of "Star Trek", some of the stuff we used to dream of while watching the movies on TV. Like Mr Spock saying "computer, where is Captain Kirk now?", and the soothing female voice would respond with the exact coordinates where Captain Kirk could be found. For the Pocket PC user this will be closer now with this software. Using Natural Language it is possible to ask questions in plain English, without training. Things like "What is my next appointment?" or "Call Jonnhy at home". And the PDA will act on that. And what's more, without software training or special recordings.
For this test we had it installed on a HP iPaq H3970 running Windows Mobile 2003.
The software brings some important features:
No voice training required
"Help" available at any time
For instance you can say things like "What's my next appointment" or "What are my appointments for tomorrow" and the Pocket PC will read out for you the appointments, including location. You can also choose to have the notifications read out for you, so when the alarm goes off the Pocket PC will also say the appointment title, time and location when the reminder comes on. You can also say "reminders on" or "reminders off" to set the reminder status.
For contacts, commands like "Show" are available. For instance "Show John Doe" will open the entry corresponding to a contact called "John Doe". If you're using a Pocket PC Phone Edition commands like "Call John Doe" or "Callback" are available. The only thing to have in mind is that you'll have to say the full contact's name - just the first name won't work. Also, if you say "Call John Doe" and more than one telephone number is available, the application will ask "Home or Work?". Of course you can say "Call John Doe at Home" to speed up things.
You can dial a number directly, including common variations. For instance both options are valid: "Call 011 six four" or "Call oh 11 sixty four".
The Microsoft Voice Command can be used as an application launcher, and programs on the Start Menu folders can be initiated by using "Start 'program name'". For instance "Start Inbox" will open the Pocket Outlook, or "Start WorldMate" will start WorldMate.
The Windows Media Player can also be controlled, and it'll even read out the track being played. It adds a new Skin with large buttons, that responds to voice commands like "Play", "Shuffle on", "Shuffle off" and others.
The voice recognition engine is really good. I live in New Zealand, and have a foreign accent, but the software responds very well. The only thing I've noticed is that you have to say the full contact's name - even if there's no other "John Doe", simply saying "Show John" is not enough. So, you'll have to remember how you entered the names in your contact database.
The software uses around 7MB RAM and requires Windows Mobile 2003 OS. The amount of memory used is directly related to the number of contacts and media tracks in your device. This is probably because the software caches the tags corresponding to every contact name and media.
Microsoft Voice Command options
Apparently the software idea came out of the Microsoft Automotive group. It makes sense, since most functions are useful when a person needs to interact with PDA while driving a car. Just think about possibilities: future versions could have even more commands, like "Open Inbox, create e-mail to John Doe. Attach Pocket Excel spreadsheet abc.xls. Send". Or "Check my appointments for flights, confirm weather at destination".
Or using the new Windows Mobile 2003 integration with Microsoft Exchange 2003, users could be notified of new e-mails, and ask the Pocket PC to read them. Could be just a matter of time to having other applications, like full integration of voice mail and e-mail into a single device.
It seems that this is the age of real Personal Digital Assistant coming. All those 3G movies where the devices were able to use natural language to understand and commands and act or respond are now closer to reality. This is really a great software for mobile devices users.
The price (US$39.95) is a little more than some users would pay for a normal handheld application, but this is not the usual one. The technology behind Microsoft Voice Command is robust and performs well. I'm surprised how well this software recognises commands and how easy is to get used to it .
There's one problem though: this software is currently only available for customers based in the United States . According to sources at Microsoft this is because the Speech Recoginition engine wasn't completely tested with foreign accents. Since I work with telecommunications and one of our projects involve voice recognition I understand this.
Update: The Microsoft Voice Command for Pocket PC was set to be officialy announced during the Comdex 2003, but it seems Microsoft itself jumped the gun, because the software was mistakenly listed on Handango ahead of the time. After this, and other articles appeared, Microsoft made the official release ahead of schedule. Update: This article was featured on Slashdot