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Look Ma, I’m Texting With No Hands!

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StartTalking for Android is a free app that focuses on keeping a driver’s eyes and attention on the road while still receiving or sending text messages. I see value not just for drivers, 25 percent of which admit texting while driving, but for the visually impaired as well. AdelaVoice, a startup founded in January of this year, just launched the StartTalking app, which creates and sends text messages to contacts as you speak and also reads incoming messages aloud without requiring any button presses or even a look at the screen.

I took an early look at a beta version of StartTalking on my Nexus One, and the app works as advertised. There’s no need to look at your handset or touch a button to get texting. In my trials, the speech recognition rivals similar products I’ve used from Google (s goog and Nuance (s nuan); the accuracy is quite good. That’s not surprising, because the dictation leverages Google’s own network-based speech recognition, although some functions, such as attention and commands, are handled locally by the software.

The main draw of StartTalking is that it runs in the background and listens for a voice command keyword; the default is “operator.” There’s no need to look at or touch your handset to use the software, which is a key differentiator. Once you speak the keyword, you do what the name of the app implies: start talking. Although my testing time was limited, I’ve been told by the developers that the app only hits the phone battery at a rate of 4 percent per hour.

When I first heard about StartTalking, a potential red flag waved because I saw that users had to pre-configure which contacts the software would work with. In my mind, that’s a potential ease-of-use barrier that could hurt adoption. I shared my concern with AdelaVoice’s CEO, Christopher Hassett, who explained the rationale:

The reason we ask the user to go through this “activation” of contacts stems from a significant amount of testing on phones that have a small number of contacts (perhaps 100-300) to a large number of contacts (2,000 – 9,000). We found that even with great commercial apps like Google Voice, when a phone has a lot of contacts in its database, things can really slow down.

StartTalking doesn’t actually create a separate contact database, which was another concern I had. This issue of choosing contacts disappeared once I actually used StartTalking because it didn’t take much time at all, and it was easy. The software reads the contact database from your phone and smartly presents contact lists by Suggested, All and Group tabs, plus you can search for a contact directly. Even better, inbound text messages aren’t limited to activated contacts; the app will read any and all messages received.

So how does AdelaVoice make money with StartTalking? There’s plenty of potential for additional speech services and that’s where a “freemium” business model comes in. The company won’t charge for the base functionality of text message communications in StartTalking, but future functionality like voice calling, initiating navigation directions or other voice-to-web services could be an up-sell. The beta version I tested could be linked to Facebook or Twitter for social networking updates by voice, for example.

AdelaVoice, the venture-backed creator of StartTalking, was founded in January of this year and has so far raised $1.05 million, with roughly 60 percent of that backing from Stage One Ventures. Attendees of our Mobilize event will get to see and hear more about StartTalking at the LaunchPad competition on Thursday.

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9 Responses to “Look Ma, I’m Texting With No Hands!”

  1. I agree with the comments about the dangers of distracted drivers, but how far do we take it? The next step might be to look at the distracting impacts of talking to, or arguing with, your wife/husband/friend while running errands or taking a vacation drive? Should moms ignore the raucus behavior of their kids while they are in the car? [The answer is often yes, since adult attention to the raucus behavior of children often maintains or increases raucus behavior in children.]
    Some people can talk and do other things at the same time more effectively than others. An example is the higher rates of accidents seen in persons with diagnosed ADHD. People who are in acute emotional distress can distract themselves during driving and may also have higher levels of traffic accidents. We need to be doing more studies before making off-the-cuff, definitive decisions about what should be done about distracted driving.
    In other words, reducing the rates of distracted driving is a viable goal, but we need to look out for unintended consequences if we let things get taken too far.

    Ed Gooze, Ph.D.

  2. Have to agree with the previous comments – a driver’s attention should be solely on driving. I have found, and passengers have told me, that my driving gets worse when I am talking with people SITTING IN THE CAR! A distracted driver is a dangerous driver, regardless of what causes the distraction.

  3. Concept – nice. But all the nice things about this app stops there.

    Dump app really, and user interface sucks. So are you going to cover every **** thing that has word ‘Android’????

  4. researchpaper

    Indeed, the technology and idea is great but it most probably will be popular not among the people they are targeting to. I agree to the comments above that no matter whether you do it with your hands or voice, communication while driving is distracting you. It may increase the accidents rate of course but not dramatically. Though I’m looking forward to buying it already:)

  5. This app is definitely not smart for a driver.
    The human brain is NOT designed to multitask.
    Driving requires more than what most drivers put into the task.

    It has been demonstrated that talking on a phone using Bluetooth is as distracting as talking on the phone while the driver holds it in his hand. The problem is the lack of concentration on what one should be doing, and that is driving the car. The decisions required by drivers do not need to be increased in number by having to think about who you wish to text and speaking the words you want relayed to the person on the other end.

    The benefit of this would be like the speech-to-text option with Handcent. But I would not want to use it while driving. Ask yourself when the last time was that you passed your exit on the highway because you were involved in a conversation.

    Texting of any type is illegal in a lot of states, and it should be illegal in ALL of them.

    • Are you the one who designed the human brain? No? Then please leave the brain alone. Based on your logic, radio should be banned from cars as it is distractive too. The reality in this case is that humans will always do things in their cars while driving. If you accept this standpoint, then the most logical thing to do is to build solutions to make those activities as safe as possible. Examples: radio controls on the steering wheel, cup holders, hands and eyes free starttalking app, etc.

  6. Judith Copeland

    I like the idea of voice recognition technology for mobile. DragonSpeak has been trying to get it to work effectively on PCs for years. I agree it is better for mobile users to have a voice app but to play the devil’s advocate here, the bottom line is your attention is still split and when you are driving a car, tons of metal flying down the road and your attention is not on what you are doing you risk your own and others’ safety.