October 20, 2011, 4:27 PM

The death of typing?

The iPhone 4S shows the future of the mobile user interface.

Lead Photo

Apple Inc.’s latest and greatest trick is Siri. And what a great trick it is.

Siri is the female-voiced speech recognition software that enables users of the new iPhone 4S to speak instead of type. Siri is comprehensive—she works in the smartphone’s Calendar, Contacts, Music, Notes, Phone and Text apps. When used on her own, she can do any number of things, such as check the weather or current stock quotes.

She even has a sense of humor. When you say to her, “Siri, beam me up.” She addresses you by name and says, “Stand still.”

But what startled me while trying out the new technology was when I asked her a retail question, having no idea what she’d do. I said, “Siri, I need a men’s shirt.” She paused for just a moment, then told me, “I found a number of men’s clothing stores fairly close to you.” And onscreen she displayed listings of stores from closest to furthest. Touching a store links to Google Maps where you are supplied with directions.

There have been other applications of speech recognition technology, but I’ve never seen one so comprehensive and accurate. And helpful. That’s the whole point, to be helpful.

Much is made of typing on the small screen of a smartphone being difficult. Well, if that’s a problem for you, here’s the solution. And it’s a solution that’s only going to grow in availability and use. Why type when you can speak? Some mobile technology experts like to call typing “friction” and say, rightfully so, that mobile commerce should be as frictionless as possible. Speech recognition is definitely the way to go.

I could not write this post without mentioning the pioneering work of Buy.com Inc. The e-retailer offers speech recognition technology as part of its site search in its mobile app. In addition, you can take a picture of an item and search by image or scan a bar code of an item and search by code. Site search through Buy.com’s app is about as frictionless as you can get.

It won’t be too very long before people start expecting speech recognition, so you might want to jot it down somewhere on your mobile commerce strategic roadmap. The future of speech recognition is a bright one.

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