I had an interesting interlude with my new Blackberry yesterday after a colleague challenged me to try the voice dialling because it was “just awesome”. Superlatives aside, I was in my car and thought why not. This is roughly what followed (names changed to protect the innocent)…
Me: Call Fred Smith.
BB: Did you say “call Fried Chips”?
Me : No.
BB: Did you say “call Fresh Pips”?
BB: Did you say…
I think you can guess the rest. Eventually I got to “Did you say ‘call Fred Smith’?” With a sigh of relief I replied “yes” only to receive the response “Which location?” Now even more frustrated, I guessed and blurted out “mobile”, which finally elicited the response “Calling Fred Smith” BUT not before my helpful blackberry advised me: “Next time simply say ‘call Fred Smith mobile 1’.”
Well thank you very much – I have a Blackberry with an attitude.
It did get me thinking though – didn’t someone tell me that spoken voice and natural language was the next big thing – the next evolution in the user interface? We’ve done keyboard, stylus, multi-touch, etc – soon it will all be voice commands.
It seems like such a great idea. The sci-fi contingent amongst us grew up with “open the pod bay doors HAL” or various star-ship captains (Kirk, Picard et at) entering into meaningful dialogue with the Enterprise computer. Yet still we tap away at our keyboard in the same way our predecessors have done and indeed barely straying from a character layout now centuries old (the QWERTY keyboard was designed in 1870).
So why has voice failed to capture the imagination? Why are we still happier to tap, poke and prod our devices rather than speak to them? Can it really be all down to personal insecurity and self consciousness? I don’t want my IT talking back to me that’s for sure and in most of the sci-fi references, if you look really closely, you’ll see that when something really important has to happen there’s invariably a button to push or a lever to pull. Probably in the heat of intergalactic battle you don’t want to scream “fire” only to have the computer respond: “What would you like to fire?”
Joking aside, if adoption and acceptance is going to come from anywhere, it seems that the mobile space holds the key. Google certainly thinks so: it has just added voice search to its mobile maps application having already enabled it for various other functions on its newest Android handsets. Can the push from the mobile space help overcome our reticence or are we inevitably destined to only ever tap and talk at best? Maybe the more mobile we become, the more comfortable we’ll become with voice as an interface but until then… “Save this document please HAL…. I said, save this …. Oh well”