TellMe the Next UI

Imagine this scene later this year.  You’re driving down the autobahn in your new 2008 BMW and want to grab dinner but you don’t know where.  So you move your hand over to your iDrive controller on your BMW ConnectedDrive to select restaurants on your 2”x5” screen.  As you enter text entry mode to type in the name of the restaurant, your window (lowercase “w”) erupts in blue as you drive into a bridge embankment at 150mph.  It the ultimate blue screen of death.  It surprises me that every device these days requires the touch input.

What about Voice as a UI?
We’re so stuck with one-size fits all touch that we forget the human voice is a great interface.  See surfing for news on my phone is great but it puts my focus in the wrong place.  A few years back we thought that the danger in cell phones was people using them to talk and pushed for hands-free systems.  Today we already see people texting while driving.  In fact, maybe some of us have done it ourselves.  We really need to keep information access from becoming a distraction.  I recently bought a GPS and the biggest feature to sway my decision was the ability to use voice response instead of my finger for input, which requires I steer with my knee.  (Note, like most commuters I already have one hand holding a cup of coffee.)  

Of course voice isn’t a great interface everywhere.  For example in a quite restaurant or a movie theater where you might interrupt others, but hey do you really need to be trolling for information there?  And that’s where touch maybe does fit in.  (But I say put away you phone, do you really need to be that connected?)  Nor is voice great in loud places like concerts or festivals.  But who says everything needs to be on size fits all.  The nice thing is XML can help.

VoiceXML was started back in 1999 as a single approach to voice interfaces.  The power of it is that it allows you to write pages that are voice enabled to support navigation, presentation, and content.  And isn’t that what XML was intended to do, allow both presentation and content in a one-size fits many approach?  Unfortunately to often XML has been looked at a way to represent text in multiple text based formats. 

So why aren’t we seeing VoiceXML?  It isn’t new we’ve been using it for some time already without realizing it.  Just listen to the current 411 networks.  Most are powered by VoiceXML.

TellMe is a better example of a voice application, a voice portal which allows access to stock quotes, news, movies listing, and even include a game of blackjack.  I’ve been using TellMe for years (800.555.TELL) which for a while it became Cingular’s #121.  A few weeks ago I tried dialing #121 and I thought it was gone forever and by then I forgot the old number.  But I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Microsoft had acquired TellMe from AT&T

Maybe voice will finally become a valid interface option.

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