Since browsing the wireless web is complicated at best, wireless providers have been looking to voice portals to provide a friendlier face.
According to voice and mobile commerce consulting firm The Kelsey Group, voice portals will be a $12 billion business by 2005.
New companies such as BeVocal, HeyAnita, Openwave Systems, Quack.com, Tellme Networks and VoiceGenie Technologies have been developing the underlying technologies for wireless carriers, while large Internet companies such as AOL Time Warner, Microsoft and Yahoo! are developing strategies that incorporate the technology.
Voice portals enable subscribers to get information read to them over the phone, from e-mail, voice-mail and faxes to newer, more personalized versions of news, stock reports and weather.
Yahoo! made a big splash in October with the launch of its Yahoo! By Phone service (1-800-MY-YAHOO). Subscribers can customize the services they receive on their Web browser and then access those services from anywhere using their telephones and touch-tone commands. While Yahoo! hasnt published official reports, Sadhana Joliet, Yahoo!s senior producer, said the company is "very, very happy" with the results so far.
BeVocal provides a similar, but more advanced service that includes flight information and traffic updates. Sprint PCS and Qwest Communications International are using BeVocals infrastructure to provide information to their wireless customers.
A big part of improving the interface is incorporating speech recognition. Customers can use plain speech commands, such as "weather" to access weather reports, instead of having to use the touch-tone keypad.
Amol Joshi, co-founder of BeVocal, said the content subscribers are looking to access from the wireless Web, however, is different than that from a standard PC. "Its usually a specific problem theyre trying to solve and because of this we can design a dialogue that gets them very quickly to that application," he said.
However, Joshi conceded, one of the reasons people dont surf the general Web using wireless devices is because the interface isnt friendly. Soon, accepted standards like Voice eXtensible Markup Language will allow all Web sites to become accessible via voice interfaces.