Dragon Dictates Its Last Message

SAN FRANCISCO (08/14/2000) - It's the end of an era: The last edition of NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software developed solely by Dragon Systems Inc. makes its debut this week.

NaturallySpeaking 5.0 features a new user interface, a host of usability improvements, and support for Intel's upcoming Pentium 4 microprocessor. It is the last voice recognition software suite made exclusively by the maverick speech technology firm Dragon Systems, which was acquired last year by Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products Inc.

Belgium-based L&H plans to combine core technology from its own speech recognition product VoiceXpress with Dragon's NaturallySpeaking in a yet-unnamed product expected to ship next year.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 5.0 will be available in September. Its improvements include a "streamlined" user interface that places a taskbar at the top of your screen, allowing easy access to Dragon tools and help menus.

Dragon has enhanced and expanded its support for desktop applications, including Microsoft Internet Explorer, Outlook, Outlook Express, America Online, Netscape Messenger, and Eudora. A Quick Start guide is added, giving you step-by-step directions on how to install and use the software.

The product will be available in several versions. The starter Essentials edition handles Web browsing, e-mail, and chat, and is priced at $59. On the high end is the $249 Preferred USB edition, which is aimed at notebook users and includes a USB sound card.

Who's a Dragon Slayer?

Dragon NaturallySpeaking will do battle against IBM ViaVoice 8.0, which is expected to ship in August. IBM is tight-lipped about features of its upcoming release, stating only that it will have improved accuracy and usability. Also, Philips' Speech Processing division says it is tentatively planning to launch FreeSpeech 3.0, an update to its dictation product, this fall.

For the past year, Dragon NaturallySpeaking has been the leading consumer speech recognition software program, with 40 percent of all unit sales, according to PC Data. Lernout & Hauspie's VoiceXpress is the second largest seller with 36 percent, trailed by IBM ViaVoice at 21 percent of sales.

Desktop Sales Soft

For years, the market for continuous speech dictation has been flat and has drawn little consumer interest. In fact, Philips pulled its FreeSpeech voice dictation program off retail shelves last year because of lackluster sales, says Rick Gallahn, director of Philips Speech Processing in North America.

Philips stills sells FreeSpeech software on its Web site and in Europe.

"Speech recognition continues to have a long, hard slog on the desktop," says Jackie Fenn, an analyst with the research firm Gartner. "And it's not because of any shortcomings in the technology." She says old typing habits die hard for desktop PC users uncomfortable navigating their PCs with voice.

The real future for speech on the consumer desktop isn't with continuous natural language dictation, Fenn says. Rather, she contends the technology's promise lies in command and control of applications and services. This kind of approach would let you say, "Computer, please dictate an e-mail message to my brother and send it to him." But speech recognition developers must shift away from dictation technology and move toward natural language understanding.

Hearing Future Speak

The popularity of the Internet and surging use of mobile phones has reignited interest in speech technology--just not on the desktop, industry analysts say.

New speech applications like voice portals, which let you access weather, movie times, and sports scores through voice commands, have given speech technologies a jump-start.

Lernout & Hauspie has licensed its core speech technology for use in popular services such as Tellme and BeVocal. Both let you access Internet information over any phone.

Both L&H and IBM have announced plans to speech-enable personal digital assistants, as well. Philips says it will speech-enable everything from television sets and fax machines to mobile phones.

The market has expanded to make room for new competition. Speech newcomers SpeechWorks and Nuance Communication have thrived offering purely telephone-based voice recognition products. For example, SpeechWorks lets you use your voice to trade stocks with ETrade, track Federal Express packages, and get flight information from United Airlines.

Analyst forecasts in the early 1980s expected desktop voice recognition technology to be huge. Prognosticators said it would be the primary way people interacted with complicated operating systems and applications. Today, voice recognition on the desktop accounts for less than 10 percent of the speech market, says Amy Wohl, president of Wohl Associates. Clearly, we're still waiting for something to shout about.

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