Developer Workshop: Vlingo

Developer Workshop is a series of profiles exploring the current state of the mobile marketplace from the point of view of the software developers mapping out its future. Each profile focuses on a developer with a compelling story to tell, and offers their perspective on what the industry's doing right, what it's doing wrong and how to make it better. Check out our previous workshops on Shazam, InfoMedia, Viigo, Meet Now Live, Shortcovers, Pint Sized Mobile, Geodelic, Spark of Blue Software, Tarver Games, People Operating Technology, Booyah, Bolt Creative, Thwapr, Monkeyland Industries and Rocket Racing League.

This week FierceDeveloper profiles intelligent voice applications provider Vlingo.




In the face of mounting regulatory pressures to curb mobile device use while driving--and with consumer demand for more effective and efficient data access solutions also on the upswing--the wireless industry is turning its attention to voice-activated technologies. vlingoAt the forefront of the trend: Intelligent voice applications provider Vlingo, whose voice interface technology enables users to instantly access mobile services and content including text and email, call contacts, search tools and social networking updates all by speaking directly into their devices. Founded in 2006 and backed by Charles River Ventures, Sigma Partners, Yahoo and AT&T, Vlingo now boasts more than 4 million users worldwide, spanning platforms including iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian.

Earlier this month, Vlingo launched SuperDialer, a new Android application expanding its signature voice dialer solution with the addition of a cloud-based "infinite phone book" connecting users to business listings, complete with reviews, ratings, maps and travel directions. SuperDialer offers consumers the latitude to communicate both general requests (e.g., "call dentist") as well as more specific requests ("directions to Wrigley Field"); the $9.99 application also powers most other Android smartphone tasks.

FierceDeveloper spoke to Vlingo CEO Dave Grannan about the applicability of voice across mobile applications, writing for Android and new opportunities for interaction.

Vlingo ceo dave grannanVlingo CEO Dave Grannan on voice-powered user experiences: The mobile industry offers great, capable devices, but by definition, user interfaces are constrained on some level. Our goal is to make mobile services more readily accessible to the user. Our focus is on natural language processing--our solution does speech recognition, but it also has to launch text messaging services and pull names out of address books. Now we're trying to take it to a broader level around search and social networking. Everyone belongs to one social network or many--you want to keep in touch with your friends, and you want to know if they're around. Now you can use your voice to interact and get to the people and information you care about.

The distracted driving issue is a market maker for us. Our SafeReader product reads back incoming messages while users are behind the wheel. That gave a great boost to our overall product--now more people are discovering the possibilities of using voice as an interface.

vlingoGrannan on SuperDialer: The notion is that you now have an infinite address book in the cloud. Our concept is that if you need a taxi, why not say 'call taxi' and not have to worry about all the other steps that are usually involved. Our search results provide sponsored listings first, then listings according to user proximity. If someone clicks on sponsor listing, we monetize that click--that's part of our model. Either way, we don't make the user think about what's already in their phone book or what's in the cloud. Having something close to you is what matters.

Grannan on developing for Android: Android is our innovation platform--when we do new things, we do them first on Android, then follow up later on other platforms. We try to get our products into the market as fast as we can. That's why we turn to Android first.

[Fragmentation is a challenge] for any developer in mobile. We made the decision four or five months ago to focus on one platform as our first priority. Device manufacturers and carriers want to buy differentiation and leadership--for us, Android is a better bet for delivering those kinds of experiences, because of its openness and because the development environment is very simple and rapid. We can develop new products very rapidly. Contrast that with Apple--it's rapid, but it's also very restrictive. Developer nirvana would be the openness of Android with the tools and maturity of iOS.

Grannan on the future of voice-enabled technologies: Three years ago, there were no touch interfaces, and no dominant UI modality. Now we can see a multi-modal environment where people get new devices and know they can type on a physical keyboard or virtual keyboard as well as talk. Our view is that none replaces the other. It's all very synergistic. If you're sitting in a meeting, you're not going to speak a message--you're going to hold your phone under the table and type it. But there are so many use cases where voice is going to be the preferred interface. It's so much easier to speak questions--why launch a browser and go to a Google search box to type in a question? It's a pain. But if you can press one widget, ask a question and get a response, it opens up new ways to interact.

Grannan on advice for aspiring mobile developers: While you're still small, pick a single platform to develop on and put all of your weight behind it. Of course you want a market opportunity across all platforms. We all want that. But it's hard to achieve when you have to port your application to all of these platforms. So you have to make a tradeoff--do you want to focus on innovation or on porting? The answer is that you need to put all your wood behind a single arrowhead and demonstrate your viability on a single platform. Because if you don't differentiate, you're going to be behind.