Where next for speech recognition on the Mac?

Voice Search

Google search facilities get better and better with each update and now, via the iPhone and Android handsets, it can provide search results based on a spoken question, taking into account your location and preferences. This is as close to true voice control as we have ever been.

Siri performed a similar job on the iPhone then mysteriously disappeared from the App Store before the announcement was made that Apple had bought the company. Following its public spats with the search-engine giant, Apple is unlikely to continue using Google's search, maps and voice recognition tools, but sees the major benefits voice recognition offers mobile phone users, hence this acquisition.

Perhaps smartphones and the explosion of powerful GPS-enabled devices is exactly what the speech-recognition industry needs - an injection of awareness to bring it into the mass-market. As the world becomes increasingly mobile with iPads and iPhones taking on more of the daily burden traditionally consumed by laptops and netbooks, speech recognition is a much-needed tool, the popularity of which is likely to increase.

It won't be long before a synced phone mounted in a vehicle will respond to voice controls as standard and companies such as Ford, with its Voice Activated Sync, are leading the way. This control of devices through voice is not only convenient, but a serious safety measure to counteract the dangers of using a phone while driving.

Fancy talk or careless whispers?

With the many benefits of speech recognition, it seems strange that it hasn't quite taken off in the way some would have expected. But it appears that things are now beginning to change.

On the desktop, it seems that voice recognition is likely to remain limited to just dictation apps, however the mobile platform is where more exciting voice-recognition apps are beginning to emerge.

To control your computer with your voice isn't quite as natural as some might think, and without 100% accuracy leads to too many time-consuming errors. The fact is you always need to use a keyboard even if you can do the majority of tasks with just your voice, and therefore voice recognition will never truly rule as an input method.

As smartphones become more powerful and more like computers, they become the ideal tools for voice-recognition software. And when combined with a search engine such as Google's Voice Search, keyboards could almost become a thing of the past.

If it weren't for games, perhaps a manufacturer would have already attempted a completely voice-controlled device?

In a way, Apple already has, with its almost buttonless iPod shuffle. The latest shuffle still offers voice control, however buttons were reintroduced after a lack of interest from consumers in a solely voice-controlled product.

"People clearly missed the buttons," said Steve Jobs at the time. Perhaps none of us want to be limited in control options; perhaps we're a little too shy to tell our electronic devices what to do in public.

We certainly felt a silly during the writing of this feature as we babbled away into a microphone while others looked on quizzically. Ultimately, it comes down to adoption and a sense of 'normality' from technology.

Remember, handsfree calling was once a niche feature but is now widely accepted, even if users do appear to be talking to themselves. For voice control and speech recognition, the same is true. If telling a device what to do with your voice becomes the standard, more and more people will start giving their fingers a rest.