Thursday, August 23, 2007

Adding Voice to SMS

The telecom revolution is sweeping the world at a scorching pace. Nothing has changed the way people interact and transact as the humble mobile phone has. For the first time, an Information Technology device has become accessible to even the less privileged in developing countries. SMS has today become an integral part of inter-personal communication. Consider this: worldwide, 620 billion SMS messages were exchanged just in Q1 2007!

Unfortunately there is a vast community for whom SMS does not hold relevance- the visually challenged. Trust me, they DO use their mobile phones extensively and it IS a great blessing for them even if it just provides them a means to attend or make calls.

Back in 2003, we at Tinfo Mobile had realized this and did whatever little we could. We made a Java based application for Reliance India Mobile users. Most of the Reliance handsets being very limited B&W ones at that time, we made a lightweight client app that resided on the phone with the bulk of processing handled by on the server-side.

The idea was simple:
a. The client app would retrieve the SMS text and send it to the server.
b. The server would use a TTS (Text to Speech) engine and convert it into an audio stream.
c. The client app would play-back this audio stream.

We were able to create a working prototype which won us a Special Award. We also made a lightweight application that was client only which would read out just the missed / dialed /received calls. This app was named 'Call History' and was launched by them.

A few other softwares are also available:

1. TALKS. The most notable among them is TALKS for Symbian mobiles from Nuance. The only problem is - its limited to a slightly high end mobile phone category - Smartphones running on Symbian OS. Nevertheless its a great piece of software.

2. Mobilespeak. Developed by Code Factory, mobile speak has a braille hardware support option also.

3. Pocket HAL. Developed by Dolphin Computer Accessories, Pocket HAL supports Windows Mobile PDAs.

I wanted to provide more options if I could and thats when a new product idea struck. Most mobile phones (even the relatively cheap ones) support bluetooth, infra-red or cable connectivity. Quite a few visually impaired people (though I admit, only a small percentage) have access to a computer either at home or office and PC IR/ BT dongles and cables are pretty cheap nowadays.

The result is SMS Talkz - an advanced voice enabled SMS management software for plain old PCs supporting most handsets with bluetooth, infra-red or cable. A software that resides completely on the PC requiring nothing to be installed on the phone and still reads out your SMS in voice. (Its also designed to be a good companion to those blessed with a good vision too)

The first Release Candidate is being readied at the moment and we require people to use, test and report bugs. So, those who have a little time to spare, please pitch in by downloading the beta from the SMS Talkz site. Serious bug finders will be rewarded by serious discounts too (do sign up at the forum with valid email address for that) :)

Also, do help spread the word on the product by including any one of the following banner images on your blogs / sites:

Banner Code (copy paste to your page, replace IMAGE_URL):

Box banner 320 x 265:

Leaderboard: 750 x 80

Banner small: 505 x 70

In case you want to provide just a text link, please use the following code:

Thanks! Your help is appreciated.

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