Microsoft plans to purchase Tellme Networks in an effort to bolster its voice services portfolio and add speech recognition to a broad range of its software and online services, the company said Wednesday.
Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's Business Division, said in a conference call Wednesday that adding voice to many of its products is a natural extension of Microsoft's long-standing interest in adding natural human interfaces -- such as touch and speech recognition -- to computing environments.
"We really see speech as a universal capability to open up the potential of computing," he said. "We see it as an important interface, an important [user] experience."
Tellme Networks is a private company that provides a VoiceXML-based voice-recognition platform for voice-powered directory assistance for third parties, and it also has its own mobile search services.
The terms of the deal, expected to close in the second quarter of this year, were not disclosed. Tellme's 320 employees will continue to work from the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California, as part of the Microsoft Business Division.
Microsoft said it will use Tellme's platform across several of its product lines, including unified communications, speech recognition, mobile services, search, and software such as the Windows OS and Office productivity and collaboration suite. The company said that some new products that could potentially result form the deal are voice-enabled customer service software and the addition of speech recognition with its Windows Live Search engine to provide a mobile search platform.
Raikes would not give specifics on what new offerings will come out of the integration of Tellme and Microsoft's products. However, he noted that there is potential across nearly all of Microsoft's product offerings for speech recognition to play a key role.
Adding a voice interface to Windows and Office so business users can use voice commands to perform tasks are one area Microsoft plans to explore, he said.
"Voice communications need to get integrated in the context of how people do their work," Raikes said. "We see Tellme and their strength as part of enhancing that overall direction."
Enhancing mobile search through speech recognition is another area the company will explore, he said.
"One of the critical things with search on the phone and especially in your car, you should be able to use voice as an interface," Raikes said. "People don't want to have to type things to get what they want."
Microsoft already provides software that enables technologies such as Ford's Sync, which lets automobile drivers have hands-free Internet connectivity and give voice commands to play music and answer and make phone calls. The company likely will expand upon such offerings.
Mobile search, too, is another place Microsoft can add Tellme's speech-recognition software, Raikes said.
"Today, Tellme already does more mobile search support than Google and Yahoo combined," he said. "We're looking forward to great conversations about what we can do in the mobile search area."