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Phone Tech Promises Merged Calls, Web Apps

Think "smartphone," and it's the non-voice features like watching videos, downloading games and accessing e-mail that jump to mind for most.

But at least one software company is working to voice back to the forefront of mobile device functionality.

At the same time, Ditech Networks (NASDAQ: DITC), a player in voice quality technology, is also working to mesh mobile calls with social networking and other Web-based applications. The company claims its soon-to-debut mStage network platform will power applications with always-on access to mobile and Web 2.0 applications, activated through voice recognition.

Mike Lambert, Ditech's marketing director, told InternetNews.com that potential applications could range from using a voice command to initiate Web browsing to software that whispers to users -- while they're on a call -- to alert them that note has just posted on their Facebook page.

"It will add greater functionality to lots of reminder technologies," he said. "You can be on a call and learn that an important e-mail [has arrived] and then access that mail without having that call interrupted."

It's technology that comes as wireless carriers and mobile device makers are exploring new features to win new subscribers and drive handset sales. Increasingly, advanced mobile apps are being seen as a chief differentiator in the competitive mobile market, with integration with popular online activities like social networking an important and growing focus.

Not surprisingly, Ditech's not the only one exploring the link between voice and mobile data. Microsoft, for instance, is in the early stages of debuting voice-activated search technology for its Windows Mobile platform. The project, called Microsoft Recite, enables users to record notes or other information, then search through that information later -- all via voice.

"We can think of countless handy ways that you might use Microsoft Recite... record your shopping list, friends' birthdays, addresses, school happenings, gift ideas, get-togethers, favorite wines... anything you might need or want to remember later," Benjamin Gauthey, a digital marketing manager at Microsoft, wrote on the product's official blog. "Recite even lets you remember and search in multiple languages."

But Recite requires users to push buttons on their smartphones to begin and recording, while Ditech is betting that the mash-up of voice and data is best handled during actual calls.

The allure of voice

One industry analyst said that improving voice recognition technology could prove to be a compelling advantage for both handset sellers and wireless service providers.

"I have always felt that if someone got voice recognition right, it would help the [smartphone] market grow more quickly, and I think that Ditech has done just that," Andy Seybold, a mobile industry analyst, told InternetNews.com.

The mStage platform could spur applications that enable users, while in a call, to initiate a conference call with just a spoken word, Lambert said. Users could also use verbal commands to check e-mail or browse a Web site without having to manually log on via a device browser.

Seybold pointed out that such technologies would be compelling to users who face handset use restrictions in certain situations, such as driving in the U.S.

"Here [in the U.S.], where hands-free is required in a vehicle, this could also help those who are driving to be able to retrieve information from the Web using voice commands," he noted.

The mStage platform, which Ditech is debuting during this week's GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, will be available by third quarter of this year.