Monday, February 02, 2009

Pillow Talk with Vlingo and Fennec

Remember this rumor on Gizmodo?

There's a lot of fear that the execution wouldn't work because typing could suck, which is why we were graced with the 'MacWheel' on the Onion News Network recently. You can learn a lot from a spoof, and the MacWheel rightly pointed out that we're not ready yet for touch screen computers, both in terms of usability and popular disposition. But touchscreen netbooks are not far away; the technology is ready, the marketing use cases are not.

There is hope today, in the form of two new browsers. One is a mobile browser that deals well with limited real estate and touch screens, Fennec from Mozilla, and the other, which is much more groundbreaking to me, is vlingo. Vlingo is a 'browser' of sorts but it's really just a layer of control to the web that uses voice to navigate. Here is the AppVee review of Vlingo if you haven't used the app already.
I wasn't much into voice controls, especially in public. What's good about vlingo's interface is that it only uses voice to suggest and pre-populate words so that you can get most of the way there to a search or status update or even a voice dial. You can then use the touch screen to edit what you've said like the google voice search application.

Although this extra layer of voice control does not take away the need for a browser, the voice-to-text interface makes voice the center of your world and lets you input information in a variety of modes.
It's not a surprise that it made TechCrunch's top ten iPhone apps of 2008. There are lots of voice to text companies, SpinVox who's done something similar in the EU as well, and then there's Yap, Voodoovox, Jott and PhoneTag. When touch screen netbooks take off however, it will be interesting to see if vlingo and or these other companies take off with them.

I said in a previous post about ChaCha that I would be embarrassed to use a voice application out in public, but I'm quite comfortable talking to inanimate objects in my house. In fact, if I'm folding my laundry, I'd much rather use voice and then tap a few corrections rather than be stuck walking back and forth to a desktop and finding the typing position at an upright computer or carry around an awkwardly folding laptop.

I think that trend towards nice flat netbooks will soon see the use of vlingo, or like apps working overtime as people sitting in bed start talking out searches and quick notes and editing them before sending them out. Here in an UWS studio, talking is the perfect way to control my media. I love and would not trade my AirMouse + iMac combo, but after a while trying to control Hulu from across the room with my iPhone starts to feel like archery.

With vlingo + netbook, or vlingo + TV there's less typing and that comes much much closer to a universal remote. Most of the work will be about selecting your results and how and where to share the information you have readied for public, private or semi-private consumption.

And this is all using language, there are even voice tools for humming commands, like this drawing done by Ze Frank.

Try the voice drawing tool for yourself...

Since you're saving lots of keystrokes using vlingo, you can now forget those silly keyboard shortcuts. If vlingo brought you to Fennec, you could replace keyboard shortcuts like 'cut' with a little scissor icon and forget about your mouse. Fennec then offers more touchscreen gestures like dragging the screen left or right give you the ability to share, email or browse to deeper content.

The picture below shows Fennec from Mozilla, which has a menu with star, page back and page forward that appear only when you wipe the screen to the left. You'd see your tabs if you wiped the other way, right. Right now the iPhone's Safari slows down your browsing behavior on mobile in the same way that IE did on the desktops in the pre-tab world.

With easy to get to tabs, and the view to what other tabs are open you can multi-task on a smaller screen more easily.

I'm not sure on the form factor, but the new idea from a google engineer could test well - the NIMble looks like a strong prototype for the touch screen, but voice could really make it interesting.

I say voice is the new frontier in technology precisely because it has not yet been made fun of to my knowledge on any comedy show. What should be a much more difficult technological advance, potentially the last piece of the information logistics puzzle would be to give the screen a 3rd dimension, so that what we say could come in as holograms like we saw in the minority report in 2002.

But that has already been spoofed here in a new episode of Lazer Cats on this week's Saturday Night Live. (click through to skip to this spot in the video)

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