by Al Sacco

Microsoft’s Tellme 2.0 Voice Search for BlackBerry: Behind the Buzz

Apr 24, 20084 mins
Enterprise Applications

Yesterday, Microsoft subsidiary Tellme launched an upgraded version of its mobile search application that lets Research In Motion (RIM) BlackBerry users speak into their phones to search the Web for information, maps, driving directions and more via Redmond’s Live Search services.

All the leading BlackBerry blogs and sites are covering the announcement like it’s big news, and I’m still wondering why. I’m not a fan of mobile voice search to begin with, Yahoo oneSearch for BlackBerry is already available with much the same functionality—minus GPS integration—and Tellme 2.0 doesn’t work on the vast majority of BlackBerry devices, though the company’s apparently working to change that. (So far it’s available on BlackBerry Pearl 8100, 8310 and the three 8800 series handhelds.)

Tellme 2.0 for BlackBerry Voice Search app
Tellme 2.0 for BlackBerry

Personally, I don’t really use any voice-activated services on my BlackBerry because I feel like a dolt screaming into my phone in robotic monotone to ensure that it “understands” me over the road ruckus outside my vehicle. I see how the functionality could be valuable while you’re driving or when your hands aren’t available, but you still need to launch whatever app you want and activate the search with at least one click, right? As far as I know, there’s no app that’s completely voice-activated, and looking at your handheld screen to get started kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? (Microsoft’s Sync technology comes to mind in thinking about truly-hands-free tech, but that’s not a smartphone app, and so, it’s a whole separate ball game.)

Here’s another reason the fuss seems strange: Other existing BlackBerry search applications do practically everything Tellme’s new offering does—and they work on nearly all BlackBerry devices. Yahoo OneSearch, which was released early this month, has voice search and provides similar results and location information, though it doesn’t use GPS, so you need to include locations with your queries for local results.

My favorite BlackBerry search app is Beyond411, which works in much the same way as Tellme 2.0, and it too employs users’ GPS information, where available, to provide local search results—it isn’t however, voice-activated.

Google, who’s notably absent from the whole mobile voice search game for the time being—you can bet your hat and homestead that won’t be the case for much longer—also offers similar search functionality in Google Maps for mobile. Google Maps even has a non-GPS location based service called My Location that employs nearby cell towers to determine users’ locations.

The most notable aspect of this announcement has largely been overlooked by blogs and other news outlets. Microsoft, which competes directly with RIM in both the consumer and enterprise mobile space with Windows Mobile and its Exchange Server, is releasing a new application for BlackBerry users before Windows Mobile users. This is not the first time Microsoft released an application for RIM smartphones. Last fall, the software giant released a Live Search app for BlackBerry, but yesterday’s release is significant because the new version of Tellme is not yet available on the Windows Mobile platform.

Since Microsoft only owns a small slice of the total smartphone pie with Windows Mobile, it makes good business sense for it to broaden its horizons—and user base—by targeting new platforms with its applications. And Tellme still plans to release the apps for Windows Mobile, as well as the iPhone and

other devices in the near future, according to the Associated Press.

Since my BlackBerry Curve 8320, a Pearl 8120 that RIM just sent me to check out, and my girlfriend’s Pearl 8130 aren’t yet supported–perhaps because they don’t have GPS–I haven’t had a chance to give Tellme 2.0 a test drive, but I’m in no rush anyway, for the reasons mentioned above.

What do you think? Is voice-activated search the future of mobile Web search? Why or why not?

And if you’ve downloaded the new Tellme app, I’d love to hear your initial impressions.