Vlingo: tell your phone what to do

vlingo.pngMobile phone interfaces are notoriously difficult to use — hence, the hype around Apple’s iPhone and its unique two-fingered method of navigating its mobile web browser.

Vlingo has a different answer to clumsy mobile interfaces: speech recognition technology so sophisticated that you can speak what you want into your phone.

This helps avoid having to tap your way through mobile web menus or speak your way through audio menus.

Let’s say you want to do a search for a nearby restaurant using your phone’s web browser. Instead of trying to hammer out “Mexican restaurants in Palo Alto, California” on your phone’s keypad, you can speak those words into your phone while on a mobile search page, and Vlingo will deliver search results.

[Update: We’ve tested the service and it worked great for Palo Alto, correctly picking up the sample sentence above.]

Note: At least that is the promise — we were excited to test it out for ourselves, but to our dismay the company’s servers were down when we tried. We’ll keep you posted on your progress.

You can try it yourself at www.vlingomobile.com if you have a Motorola Razr or other currently compatible models (list). Or, watch the demo video below.]

http://services.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f8/271548276

The Cambridge, Mass.-based company figures out what you’re looking for based on the meaning and pronunciation of each word you say, and understands your accent and the meaning of your phrase. It compares the information you provide with a corpus of what every past user has ever told it, automatically refining its understanding as more and more people use the service.

The downside to this approach in the short term is that regional accents or foreign words may not get understood the first time, says chief executive Dave Grannan.

Because the technology detects details of vocabulary and speech patterns, internationalization to other accents and languages is a complex task, and a ways down the road, Grannan says.

The company is focusing on working with wireless carriers and mobile applications and is working on deals with more than one carrier, it claims.

It also offers a simple application programming interface, or API, that works on most 3G and multimedia phones so that mobile application developers can integrate its service into their own offerings.

The company has received $6.5 million in funding from Charles River Ventures and Sigma Partners.