The Dawn of the Voice-to-Text Era


We all type quite a bit. I’ve never measured how many words each day I type but I imagine it’s probably a few thousand each week between my laptop and my mobile phone and across emails and blog posts. And no one can deny the toll this takes on our wrists.

In the past week, I’ve been suffering from some carpal tunnel pain particularly as I’ve been coding more. Coding often requires all kinds of odd key combinations because of the varying syntaxes of CSS, Ruby, R, MySQL and the English language.

There are all kinds of solutions to this problem, ergonomics being the first. But I can’t imagine in 10 years, as the volume of indications continues to increase, that we will all still be typing away on these primeval keyboards.

So, instead I’ve adopted dictation. Initially, I used the built-in Apple dictation feature and then tried using Google’s. More recently I’ve switched entirely to Nuance’s Dragon. This blog post is entirely dictated and all of the posts for the last two weeks also.

I remember using MacSpeak 10 years ago which was Apple’s speech recognition effort. Who could forget the frustration that followed the initial hope of being able to control a computer through voice? Since then, huge leaps have been made. Today, accuracy is close to 99%. A good analogy to demonstrate the progress might be comparing Apple’s Newton and the iPhone.

In five years, I believe voice will be as common a mode of data input as keyboards. It’s more natural to speak to a computer rather than type because the computer can respond at the pace of your thoughts. I spend less time responding to emails because of dictation. It’s also much faster pen these posts because instead of focusing on spelling or typing or corrections, I’m focused on the content and the computer takes care of the rest.

Startups are taking notice and beginning to differentiate through voice. Roobiq is a CRM that solves the data entry problem through voice. Siri and Google Now are the more obvious examples. These will only become more common and particularly on the phone.

At first blush, it might seem that the smart phone ushered out the era of voice in favor of SMS and short form messaging and mobile application use. After all what fraction of time spent on a mobile making telephone calls? But a more accurate refinement of that statement that the mobile phone ushered out the era of synchronous voice.

The mobile phone will be the harbinger of the asynchronous voice-to-text era. And our wrists will be the better for it.

Published 2013-06-05 in Trends 

Tomasz Tunguz is partner at Redpoint. I write daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups. I co-authored the book, Winning with Data. Join more than 20,000 others receiving these blog posts by email.

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