Jott for iPhone and other ASR products

In a previous posting I wished for an iPhone voice memo recorder, and I was disappointed to find that the 2.0 software load still lacked one. I now conclude that this was an intentional omission, yielding the opportunity to the new iPhone third party software community.

Last week I downloaded Jott, a free application, from the iTunes store. It is a serviceable voice recorder, so my wish is fulfilled.

But the beauty of the third party software community concept is that motivated, talented people in hungry startups will go beyond what’s justifiable in a large company like Apple, and this is what Jott has done. It doesn’t just record voice memos, it transcribes them into written text.

It works very well. It uses people to do the transcriptions. I am not sure if the utterances are preprocessed with Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) and transmitted to humans for verification and correction, or if it is entirely done by people in a call center somewhere. When I mumble the text comes back as “Unclear,” but I can still play back what I said and recognize it for myself.

There are a few other transcription-type applications out there. Spinvox and PhoneTag transcribe voicemail into SMS and email. A great idea. Nuance, the world leader in voice recognition technology, announced a similar service in April.

In contrast to the foregoing, Yap is 100% automated, so to avoid mistakes it has the user verify its efforts. You speak the text you want to send as an SMS (or that you want to search the web for) and Yap renders it as text on your phone’s screen. You correct it and send it off. Yap doesn’t appear to be deployed yet.

Similar to Yap, but already deployed in the real world is Vlingo. I went to the Vlingo website to download a trial, but didn’t when I discovered I would have to buy a Blackberry to try it on. Vlingo was recently adopted by Yahoo! to power its onSearch mobile product. Nuance is suing Vlingo for patent infringement. Nuance has announced an application like this for the iPhone, but a search for “Nuance” in the iTunes store doesn’t yield any results for it yet.

Another ASR granddaddy is Tellme (now owned by Microsoft), which powers the Sprint Live Search service. Tellme also lets developers do free hosted low-volume implementations of their concepts in VoiceXML.

Getting back to my iPhone wish list, I am still baffled as to why it doesn’t do cut and paste. The argument that it would require an awkward user interface was exploded a year ago.

Update July 25th: I neglected to mention some other voicemail transcription services. Here is a comparative review of GotVoice, SpinVox, YouMail, and PhoneTag.

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