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Microsoft Subsidiary Tellme Will Play A Big Role In Windows Phones Coming This Fall

imageAfter laying low since Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) bought Tellme two years ago, Microsoft’s Mountain View, Calif.-based subsidiary is announcing that it will play an integral role in the Windows Mobile 6.5 operating due out this fall.

Tellme is best known for its legacy speech-recognition business of answering 411 calls and information lines for other large companies. When Microsoft bought them, it was reaching about 40 million people a month — and it still is. But in mobile, Tellme’s efforts have been mostly limited to a few BlackBerry applications that lets users conduct yellow-page searches. Tellme’s Director of Product Management and Planning Marcello Typrin told me last week that changes with Windows Mobile 6.5, where it is placing the company’s first big bet in mobile.

Tellme is announcing today that it will be deeply integrated into Windows Mobile phones, meaning that users will be able to press a physical button on the phone in order to send a text, make a call or search for information — using voice recognition technology. The software is available now to handset manufacturers, so that it can be launched on the first Windows Mobile 6.5 handsets when they arrive this fall. It will be free to end users.

Typrin said with Microsoft’s help, they’ll will be working closely with handset manufacturers to integrate the software deeply into the hardware. In practice, that means that it may be activated using the new “Start” key that Microsoft is making mandatory on all of its phones going forward. In that scenario, Tellme would be used when a user presses and holds that key. Typrin said gaining access to the hardware was key to making phones easier to use. “Putting an application in a menu defeats the purpose,” he said. “It’s not even a downloadable app. We are doing the right thing by shipping in retail out of the box. We’ve been waiting for that opportunity.”

In this version, Tellme’s service will be integrated with Microsoft’s Live search, allowing for any general search terms, like maps, sports scores, etc. The service will also allow users to say things, such as “Text Wendy,” or “Call Gordon.” While often times speech recognition is difficult to use, Typrin said the service will get smarter as a person uses it more. For example, as you make calls, or send text messages, it will weight names more heavily that are used frequently.

For right now, Typrin said Tellme is viewing the deal as a “good thing for Windows Mobile” because it may drive more Windows device sales. But eventually a revenue opportunity is through search and advertising. They are currently in talks with operators about a revenue-share deals. He also said that despite being owned by Microsoft, Tellme is free to roll out different operating systems. Of course, BlackBerry is one of those opportunities, however, he says they have no plans at this time to launch an application on the platform.

5 Responses to “Microsoft Subsidiary Tellme Will Play A Big Role In Windows Phones Coming This Fall”

  1. Rebecca Paquette

    I would like to jump into the conversation to clarify a few things about Nuance’s perspective on mobile speech.

    We absolutely see speech recognition as hot in the mobile industry right now, and Nuance is right in the middle, helping lead the charge with virtually every major manufacturer and carrier. Nuance has long been offering speech-enriched mobile services and features for all major OEMs, carriers, languages, operating systems and platforms, smartphones and feature phones. For instance, our core speech solution – which already provides one-button access to voice-enabled command and control – ships on more than 300 million handsets (and growing) from major phones from the likes of Samsung, LG, RIM, Motorola and myriad others. From our vantage, the Microsoft announcement appears to be an early, some might say yet another, step in formulating a mobile strategy to catch up to Nuance and others in the field. In reading today’s news, Microsoft would have you believe this is an industry first. In fact, these capabilities are already in the hands of consumers and companies worldwide, audiences that are now looking to Nuance for the next killer innovation.

    Rebecca Paquette
    Nuance Communications

  2. @ Speech Recognizer — You are right, it has been difficult for any voice recognition software to take off. This is no exception. The one part worth noting is that it will have a hardware component and be one touch away, which may help it take off. Although that won't help the age-old problems of getting the text correctly based on what you've said and "learning" how to use it. Still, as you mention there's quite a few voice products in the pipeline. Yahoo has one, too. Perhaps, consumer awareness will increase rapidly over the next couple of years?

  3. Speech Recognizer

    Tellme will be irrelevant in Windows Mobile 6.5. The leader Nuance has gained no mobile traction including a large contract to embed with Samsung devices. Nuance is back to their core business in health, IVRs and managing their patent portfolio. Nuance continues to pursue IP solutions like acquiring Zi for search. Their only major carrier agreement is with MetroPCS for access to customer care. On the other hand, GoogleVoice in its beta with Grand Central Communications could give a life to speech recognition. The difference is that Grand Central has a compelling applications by integrating numbers and voice mail in a hosted cloud solution that transcribes VM to text.

  4. Robbie Bach just can't seem to get anything right can he?
    Time after time after time, businesses in his E & D Divison get clobbered by Apple or Nintendo or anyone they are competing with.
    Zune has been out nearly 3 years, and the clown hasn''t even been ale to introduce Zune to Europe yet, and stil has less than 5% of the US market. Meanwhile, Apple swas able to introduce the iPhone to Europe within months after launching the iPhone, and grabbed market share in bith the US and Europe. Yet launching a phone service is a heck of lot more harder than merely launching a device that just plays music, like the Zune.
    Danger and Tellme have ben in Microsoft for years now, and still hasn't seen their products make any headway in anything. Bach just buys companies with Microsoft shareholder money so they can go die.
    Why on earth should gthe iPhone come from nowhere and simply detrsoy Window Mobile in market share, within just a year?
    hat has Robbie Bach and his cohorts been doing when they just keep making losses like they did just this last quarter?
    What on earth has this idiot been playing at, andf why is he still running the E & D business at Microsoft?