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Giving Voice to Text Messages

Tired of pecking out text messages on your phone? Nuance Communications promises help is on the way.

At the Conversations Mobile conference today in Orlando, Fla., Nuance showed off a beta of Nuance Mobile Dictation, which lets mobile phone users use speech to create text messages, avoiding the keypad altogether.

To highlight the advantages of NMD, Nuance staged an event pitting Ben Cook, who holds the Guinness world record for text messaging, against a Nuance product manager using the new software.

Cook holds the record for the fastest entry of a 160-character message on a mobile device: "The razor toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human."

Cook's time was 42.2 seconds.

While they didn't go head to head, the NMD user's time of 16.32 seconds easily beat Cook's time.

Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, said the technology has great promise if the accuracy level is high.

"We've looked at the social dynamics of this and there are definitely times when you want to communicate messages to people and not necessarily physically connect with them," said Bajarin.

"Think about when you're driving in your car, for example, and you want to get an e-mail message to someone. If Nuance or anyone else can nail the accuracy, it's a winner."

Other contests were conducted at the conference, including ones that used more typical text entries.

For example, Cook typed, "I'm on my way. I'll be there in 30 minutes" in 16.25 seconds, which took a Blackberry user 30 seconds to type.

But Nuance claimed victory at a speedy 7.86 seconds time with NMD.

Nuance said the software is in testing with carriers and won't be available as a service to mobile phone users until sometime next year.

"Mobile phone subscribers sent over a trillion SMS  messages last year -- despite the data entry constraints of cumbersome phone keypads -- so one can imagine the potential of this market given a simple and intuitive speech-driven SMS interface," said Michael Thompson, vice president and general manager of telco, search and communications at Nuance.

For those committed to typing their text messages, Guinness has identified what it said is the world's largest, working mobile phone.

At over six feet high, the keys are big enough for anyone's fingers, but mobility is another matter.