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BlackBerry gets new voice features with vlingo upgrade

Vlingo Corp. has debuted a new version of vlingo for Research In Motion's BlackBerry smartphones.

Available free-of-charge, the vlingo 2.0 for BlackBerry application adds the ability to speak Facebook and Twitter status updates, support for 10 new applications, full text-message read-back, "tell-a-friend" and SureType support. The company launched vlingo 1.0 for BlackBerry smartphones in June.

"The two remaining barriers to mobile data adoption are discoverability and usability," said Dave Grannan, CEO of vlingo, Cambridge, MA. "Users have a real tough time inputting data, getting data out. Because menu structures are different, some devices have better navigations systems, because they're always connected, but people often don't even know these applications are on their device.

"We let consumers press a button, tell the phone what they want to do and we take the action," he said. "With vlingo voice commands, people don't have to type in a small keyboard. They can send messages, updates their social networks and search the Web with their voice.

"Voice is a great user interface."

The company claims that consumers have spoken more than 3 million times to the vlingo application, including more than 1 million times to compose text messages with their voices.

Vlingo gives BlackBerry smartphone users the ability to power the most popular features by voice.

They can press the side "convenience" key on their handset, which lets them speak commands into the phone.

Vlingo 1.0 voice-enabled applications that had been impossible with earlier technology, including the ability to send and reply to emails and text messages, search the Web, open applications, dial the phone, look up contacts and send a "note to self," all by speaking to the phone.

Version 2.0 also lets consumers launch built-in programs using their voice, including Address Book, Alarm, the BrickBreaker game, Calculator, Calendar, Camera, Maps, Media, MemoPad, Messages, Options, Tasks and the Web browser.

Consumers can also launch third-party programs, including Facebook, Google Maps, Opera and Viigo.

Vlingo is promoting its mobile voice services with a direct-to-consumer push, with adoption mostly driven virally.

"We've seen nice viral expansion of our product, and we've also run a small mixed-media marketing campaign that includes Web and mobile banner ads and mobile text and search ads," Mr. Grannan said. "We work with a number of distribution outlets, including Get Jar mobile downloads, the Berry Store in its 'utilities' category, MobiHand and we're on T-Mobile's T-Zone download page.

"Going forward we'll look at brick-and-mortar retail stores, because retailers want to upsell consumers, and this is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate a smartphone's functionality," he said.

Vlingo gives BlackBerry smartphone users control over mobile information and tasks with the power of their voice.

With vlingo, users do not need to change how they speak or memorize a list of commands.

They can say what they want, how they want, and vlingo captures the results word for word.

As more users join the community, vlingo gives consumers the ability to freely mix typing and talking with no limits on what they can say.

Vlingo is adding support for German and Spanish by end of this year, with the rest of European languages, including Italian French and Portuguese, to follow in 2009.

Some Asian language will be supported by second-quarter 2009, as well.

"Support for regional dialects makes us unique, we're the only voice technology company in the market that can do unconstrained speech recognition," Mr. Grannan said. "We don't know who you are, but we have your phone number, so we have a personal file for you on our server to adapt to your voice, meaning the more you use the service, the better the service gets.

"We're very precise about writing different packages for different speakers," he said. "For example, we support various English dialects, including U.S., Britain, India, Singapore and Australia, and Spanish will be the same way."

Vlingo 2.0 is available free-of-charge for BlackBerry Pearl, BlackBerry Curve and BlackBerry 8800 series smartphones. Wireless charges may apply.

U.S. and Canadian consumers can go to to download directly from their PC or BlackBerry smartphone.

British beta users can also go to from their PC or BlackBerry smartphone to download.

Vlingo estimages that, between the U.S., Canada and Britain, there are somewhere between 16 million and 17 million BlackBerry users.

Vlingo is a voice-powered user interface that unlocks access to mobile phone wireless data services.

Vlingo allows users to speak or type into any vlingo-enabled text box and get accurate, easy and consistent access to all the information, entertainment and communication made possible through today's mobile applications.

Over next couple of quarters, vlingo is planning on supporting Nokia's Symbian, Microsoft's Windows Mobile, Apple's iPhone and Google's Android platforms.

The company secured its venture capital financing from Charles River Ventures, Sigma Partners and Yahoo Inc.

Yahoo has tapped vlingo to provide speech recognition for its oneSearch with voice product.

Offered as a standalone mobile search application and recently integrated into Yahoo Go 3.0 for select devices, the product is optimized for English speakers with different accents in the U.S., U.K., Canada, India, the Philippines and Singapore.

Consumers can download the application from on their mobile phone or from on their PC.

"Yahoo is one of our investors, and we voice-enable some of their products," Mr. Grannan said. "Through partnerships, Yahoo already runs our product on a number of feature phones, as well as some handsets on the Symbian and Windows Mobile platforms."

Down the road, vlingo sees opportunities to use mobile voice for mobile marketing.

"Absolutely we see a role for mobile advertising, although we feel that Jingle's Free411 has it wrong, because we're completely focused on a great user experience," Mr. Grannan said. "Web search with voice takes a few seconds, and while the smartphone is thinking we could deploy an idle screen ad, or return an ad with their voice search results.

"However, that seems to annoy people, so instead we're looking at things that add value, like when a consumer says 'find hotels near O'Hare airport,' we're routing that traffic to the best hotel vendor and bringing back a direct list of what you asked for based on geographic proximity," he said. "If you click on a button or banner to call or go to a Web site, then partners would pay us a revenue share.

"We're looking at those types of advertising models, serving what consumers want as opposed to putting random ads in front of the user."