RealTime IT News

Tellme to BlackBerry: Listen Up

SAN FRANCISCO -- BlackBerry users may find their mobile searches go a bit easier now with an assist from, of all companies, Microsoft subsidiary TellMe. The voice-recognition feature is specifically focused on finding local services such as a restaurant, movie or other business listing as well as traffic and weather conditions and driving directions.

"This is not a fat client sent over the Net but a living, breathing service," Mike McCue, founder and general manager of Tellme, told InternetNews.com at his company's booth at the Web 2.0 Expo last week.

McCue said TellMe is working on bringing the same features to Windows Mobile devices and hopes availability will be sometime next year. Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) bought Tellme last year.

But for now, it's the popular BlackBerry that gets access to Tellme's so-called 'on-the-go' information features. With help from global positioning system (GPS) technology, TellMe can deliver local information right to an individual's user's screen.

Hold down the 'talk' button and say a business name or category like "coffee" and you'll get business address, driving directions and options to call the business or share the listing with a friend.

With GPS cluing the system in to your location, you can simply say "traffic" to get a map with traffic conditions on major local routes. Say "weather" and see a five-day forecast for your local area or say a different city to see weather for any other U.S. city.

Similarly, you can speak the name of a movie theater to see theaters closest to you, showtimes, driving directions and the ability to buy tickets online using Fandango.

You can also say "driving directions" and speak or type a destination to see step-by-step directions from your current starting location. McCue said TellMe is "kicking things off" but wants to encourage developers to use the TellMe platform to come up with new voice-activated services, such as local surfing conditions in California.

What Web 2.0 is all about

And what was TellMe doing exhibiting at the Web 2.0 Expo?

"TellMe was founded on the idea of a network service -- that's what Web 2.0 is all about," McCue said. "And now mobile is the hot Web 2.0 trend. Core to our belief is the idea of intelligence in the cloud with a handshake to make the services work."

McCue said mobility is driving the need for simpler access, particularly with some consumers risking their attention while driving to get at information sources online. "Our idea is to let you simply say what you want and get it," he said.

Finding information while in the car was viewed as the most difficult 'on-the-go' task by respondents in a study conducted last month by Decipher and Greenfield Online.

Some 63 percent of respondents said finding movie information was the most difficult task while driving, ahead of text messaging (53 percent) or finding a phone number (51 percent).

McCue said he's a big fan of Apple's innovative iPhone, which uses touch-screen technology to simplify access to applications and the Web. "I love the iPhone," he said.

But he's also quick to show the advantage of TellMe's software on a BlackBerry in many situations. "It takes six clicks to find a business on an iPhone versus just saying: 'Starbucks,'" he said.