you ever ...
to the Internet?
By Daniel Cheung
January 1, 2001
to the Internet
A fledging group of services
in the USA, called voice portals, wants to breathe new life into the
low-tech telephone and transform it into a hands-free, PC-free, and cost-free
device that can access the Internet.
Accessing the Internet from
a telephone is nothing new, of course. WAP has enabled many wireless phones
with microbrowsers that let you check e-mail or surf text-only sites - or WAP
sites. But up to this point, what they offer is a limited, often frustrating
form of Web access, where information must be read on tiny screens and responses
painstakingly entered on tiny keypads.
Partly due to these problems,
many experts in the computer, wireless and Internet industries have seen the
value of allowing users to use voice commands to access information. Bill Gates,
no less, has made his views perfectly clear in a recent interview with Red Herring
(Feb, 2000) , "... People not only want to have a speech-recognition interface
with their PC screen, they want to have it with their telephone. When you call
someone, you want to be able to call up information on your cell phone screen,
such as a project dateline or movie schedule, and you should be able to navigate
through that information by talking into your phone because it recognizes your
voice. And you want every Web site to be set up so users can take advantage
of this feature."
the Voice Portal Works
web voice portal lets you access the Internet from any phone (mobile or
home) and use your voice to navigate through menus and locate information.
Most voice portals are free services, but you'll have to endure frequent
ads while waiting for what you want. Here are the steps to follow:
To access a Web voice portal, simply dial a toll-free number from any
phone (usually a mobile phone). The service presents you with a list of
Pick the topic you are interested in and then tell the service exactly
what you're looking for, using only your voice.
The voice portal uses speech recognition software to convert your request
from speech to text.
The voice portal
dumps the text into a search engine and performs a search on the Web to
retrieve the information you requested.
The information is downloaded from the Internet to the server of the voice
portal, then converted from text to speech and delivered to you over the
Voice portals have not arrived
in Australia to date, as far as we know. However, it is quickly becoming another
viable option for surfing the Web in America. Voice portals take advantage of
speech recognition and processing to eliminate these constraints. (The technology
works with both wireless and desktop phones.) Instead of entering a URL, you
dial a toll-free number. Most of the voice portals reviewed in preparation for
this article offer
basic information such as weather reports and stock quotes. However, each also
tackles more ambitious tasks as well. Voice portals do an adequate job of guiding
you when you're stuck, overall. Say "help" or "what are my choices?"
and a friendly voice will tell you what commands you can use to move around
the service. But voice portals also face some challenges. We have found so far
that no service gets it completely right. Some, of course, outperform others.
For example, what happens
when you're presented with a list of Cinemas? On the Web, your choices are listed
at once on the screen, making selection easy. Even microbrowsers do a good job
of presenting menus. But any voice data must be presented sequentially, as we
can process only one choice at a time. This means that the presentation of
if not carefully prepared, can be painstakingly time-consuming and exceedingly
expensive, especially if accessed through a mobile phone. Therefore,
a voice portal must organize content wisely and develop spoken commands that
let users move rapidly through a list or allow them to jump from section to
section. But that is tricky. If a voice portal offers too many options, users
will grow frustrated listening to long menus or having to remember numerous
commands. But if users are offered too few, they will have little reason to
This leads to the second
challenge: What content should a voice portal include? Navigation limits - along
with the fact that many users are mobile - means that they will want to get
information and get out. Many users will not care about news reports or the
joke of the day - they will more likely want to find the nearest restaurant
or check traffic. Each portal answers these questions differently.
Much time has passed since our original megapixel camera phone comparison article of late 2004, and manufacturers have had the opportunity to improve the...