Thursday, February 7, 2013

Another Reason Windows Phone 8 Is A Winner

By all technical reviews Windows Phone 8 is simple, elegant, and beautiful.  And yet statistically speaking no one is carrying one.  There are many intertwined reasons for this such as no significant developer support and no significant retailer support.  Check out your local Best Buy and see what you think about the WP8 display, if there is one.

This is really a shame because by and large the bulk of the smartphone public out there doesn't really care about the specifics of their phone.  My proof of this is how many phones are out there still loaded with Gingerbread.  These people don't customize their dialiers or install replacement SMS apps.  They expect their phone to "just work" and they tolerate many of the Android devices because they are cheap.  Heck, many of them don't even know their phone is running Android.  It's just a phone and something that plays Temple Run or Angry Birds.

But Microsoft is well positioned to make a serious run at these people.  There are many great things about WP8 but I think there is one feature that really has the potential of being a game changer for the platform.

App Specific, Contextually Aware Voice Commands

The next frontier is voice.  Sure, we have Siri and Google Now and they are great first takes but voice recognition is getting good enough that we should be able to start really using our voice to casually use our phone.  In order to do this all the apps on the phone really need to be able to respond to my voice.  Apple and Google took one approach while Microsoft took a different path.

Siri and Google Now (and Samsung S-Voice for that matter) are server-side technologies in that they are essentially searches.  With Siri the voice recognition is done in the cloud and then the search is processed.  With Android 4.1 and later the recognition is done on the phone but it still leads to essentially a search.  In both case the results of this search can be customized and returned in intelligent cards such as sports scores or a quiz of a given fact.  There is some local integration such as asking the phone to navigate to a given point of interest but this still amounts to a simple search that the maps app simple responds to.  There is a better way in my opinion.

With Windows Phone 8 applications can specify verbs to which they will respond.  This is entirely controlled by the developer of the app, not Microsoft  This is a very powerful concept.  With this structure a user can voice control every app on her phone assuming those apps are enabled by the developers with voice actions.  To experience this power take a recent Android phone, bring up Google Now, and say 'tweet This is a tweet using my voice'.  What you'll get is a Google search because Google Now has no idea what to do with it.  With Windows Phone 8 it is possible today to install a Twitter client that has the voice verbs baked in and send your tweet entirely by voice.  Or bring up a book in a book reader. Or bring up the weather.  Or start the next level in that cool game.  Any app you have on your phone could be upgraded to easily support these voice verbs.

The best part is that the recognition is app specific with a very small dictionary.  This should, in practice, make the recognition very accurate.

Voice is the next frontier and Microsoft has a very compelling story for integrating voice into apps.  They should promote it.


  1. Think about what this means for accessibility and those who cannot see.

    1. Right. The fact that MS is already working with app vendors and getting them to bake these voice verbs into their apps is key. Google and Apple are not doing that so integrating third party apps into Siri or Google Now will be tough.

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