Voice recognition arrives one solution at a time

The Smart ShopperVoice recognition seems to be a theme in my life lately. I just finished setting up Naturally Speaking on my wife’s computer, so she can save wear-and-tear on her joints by dictating instead of typing. Then I read a piece by David Pogue of the NY Times, about another terrific productivity tool: Voice mail services that take your calls and convert them into email text, for you to review, sort and save. Finally, I read about the device pictured here, which allows you to rattle off the groceries you need and have it assemble your marching orders as a finished list.

Someone has already commented on the engadget blog entry where I learned about this device that it will fail. The reason: You can buy a lot of groceries for its purchase price.

As a marketer, I would disagree for two reasons:

  1. The long tail — We’ve observed that nearly everyone listens to music, yet relatively few listen to any particular artist. Some really obscure artists have made successful careers for themselves, thanks to lowered distribution costs.* Because of this same long tail phenomenon, a $150 device will be bought by enough people to be a success, especially because the concept behind it is sticky.**
  2. It helps ease a reviled chore — In my entire life I’ve only known one person who actually enjoys buying groceries. Just one. Everyone else just wants the stuff to magically arrive in their kitchen. Although it doesn’t go that far, this Top 10 New Product winner (at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas) does help family members collaborate on a job almost nobody enjoys.

I predict it will do quite well. I’m also confident that this is the beginning of a trend in technology. There will be more voice recognition tools, helping us get more work done. And more often than you might imagine, they will be combined with the cell phone. Sooner rather than later.

In November I was speculating that some day in the distant future, mobile voice recognition would help automate the construction trade. This past week has made me think this future is closer than anyone might imagine.

*Watch for a post from me later this week on the future of the music industry, as music labels become nothing more than the distribution arm that a recording artist needs to survive.

**Watch for another post this week on the art of making a product or concept sticky. It’s a review of a great book that expounds on the last third of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.

2 Replies to “Voice recognition arrives one solution at a time”

  1. It’s not the $150 price tag that would deter me — it would be having yet another gadget to find.

    Besides, how much labor does this really save? Scrawling a restaurant list just doesn’t take that much time. Plus, a lot of my grocery decisions are made at the store, according to what looks fresh and what’s on sale (and then what OTHER items I need to make a full meal out of those fresh on-sale items)…if I sent my husband to the store with a device like this, who knows what he’d come home with?

  2. Thanks, Holly.

    One of the things that I found when I dug deeper into ths product, that isn’t apparent from the photo, is this is supposed to be affixed to the refrigerator door or some other permanent place. Finding it — or, more to the point, losing it — isn’t the issue. But you’re right that it doesn’t prevent the problem of a spouse who might not be the best judge of pricing or ripeness. You could call me “Exhibit A” in that regard.

    My wife and I divvy up groceries. She sends me the list and I go buy the stuff. This sounds unfair, but she’s much better at selecting what we really need, so I’m glad to be the foot soldier (most of the time!). But I do often come home this less-than-ideal produce (“Apples again? Bo-ring! How about clementines? They’re only in season for two months!”).

    We already use a geeky device, by the way. It’s my Palm-based PDA. Here’s the drill:

    1. She emails me the list
    2. I copy and paste it into a list-making program called Bonzai
    3. I reorganize the based on the path through the store
    4. I sync up with my PDA

    When I get into the store, I grab a hand basket, so I can maneuver through the store quickly, with PDA in hand. I check the items off as I go (when each is checked off, it disappears from my list — very cool, very geeky). My goal is to devote no more than 30 minutes total to getting the list, refining it and buying the groceries. This prison-break pace may account for the lackluster fruits and vegetables in our home.

    One final thought, after that sad look into my crazed, gadget-filled life: I came across this post today about a do-it-yourself kitchen workstation that allows the family to collaborate on much more than groceries — it’s the Bill and Melinda Gates household! This device is posted on the wall of the kitchen. (Browse down to the entry called “Popular Science.”)

    In the early 1920s Buster Keaton did a wonderful satire — a silent film, of course — of the automated home of the future called Electric House. He’d have a field day with where we’ve come since!

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