I Talk, Vlingo Listens

Vlingo’s new software for BlackBerrys (the link goes live at 5 a.m. PT), which gives me the ability to navigate my phone entirely by voice, has me feeling like a kid on Christmas morning. I press a button on my Pearl, wait for a chime, simply say, “Web search, weather San Francisco,” and the browser opens and delivers me the weather in San Francisco. I can also use it to text and send emails to my contacts, though admittedly without the benefit of typing, punctuation is a problem.

As Om has pointed out, voice makes navigating phones easier, but the Vlingo application does eat up bandwidth. Regardless, the Vlingo software for BlackBerry devices is powered by the same speech recognition engine behind Yahoo’s oneSearch, the voice-enabled web search software that had me so excited I downloaded it in the middle of the keynote speech introducing it.

With the ability to text and email by voice, the Vlingo software has more features than oneSearch, but in return I’ve given Vlingo voice control of my entire phone. And that poses a problem for Nuance Communication, the leader of speech recognition software for dictation and for mobile phones. Nuance powers my BlackBerry’s voice dial feature — or at least it did until I downloaded the Vlingo client. (Device-wise, for now the software is only available for BlackBerrys.)

Both Nuance and Vlingo are going after deals with carriers because that’s where the money and reach are. Vlingo hopes to sign deals with partners to make them the default option for voice-powered commands such as web search or directory services. It’s popularity so far may be one of the reasons Nuance earlier this month filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Vlingo.

Vlngo’s CEO Dave Grannan says the suit is without merit; he also recently raised a $20 million round of funding, which he says he’s willing to use to fight the infringement case. However, infringement suits are a messy business and have long been used as a blunt instrument to fend off competition. Vlingo’s technology is good, but as a startup going up against Nuance, which has sued everyone from Yahoo to TellMe, it’s going up against a practiced plaintiff.

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