Move Over Touch: Voice Recognition Grows Up

nuance-web-logoNuance Communications (s NUAN) said today it’s offering an upgrade to its line of speech recognition software aimed at carriers and handset makers. The new software includes a combination of on-handset speech recognition and server-based transcription that means it can do far more than navigate an address book. It’s also a sign that carriers are interested in offering up voice recognition as an easy way to navigate through content on mobile phones — while at the same time getting consumers to use their data plans.

The new software will allow users to dictate texts and emails, find information on the web and bring up applications such as Twitter on their mobile phones (check out the demo). Sounds a lot like the functionality offered by my all-time favorite phone application, Vlingo, which prompted me to override the existing Nuance voice control on my BlackBerry.

However, since some of the requests can be implemented on the handset, the new Nuance software would consume less data than Vlingo does. It’s also designed to be used in a greater number of phones, including feature phones, while Vlingo only has applications for the iPhone and BlackBerry devices. Both companies are licensing their technology to carriers, with Nuance in the clear lead thanks to existing relationships with handset makers. Vlingo has a deal with Yahoo (s yhoo), and a free consumer app, but it licensed its voice recognition technology from IBM (s ibm), which sold many of its voice patents to Nuance. So the new relationship between Nuance and Vlingo might be a strained one.

Friends have dubbed me the person most likely to be talking on my phone with no one on the other end, but voice recognition is by far the best way for me to turn my phone into a web surfing, text-writing, speed-dialing personal assistant while I focus on living the rest of my life.  And unlike touch, which is only available on high-end smartphones that come with data plans, speech could make data plans compelling for users of feature phones. I think the carriers will like that.