April 22, 2002 12:45 PM PDT

Microsoft revs speech app for cars

Microsoft is keeping its eye on the road with its Windows CE operating system.

The software giant released its latest speech software for use with Windows CE for Automotive 3.5, Microsoft's operating system for in-car use. The speech software will be the basis for an interface, which partners will develop, to access the operating system.

The precise use for the operating system has yet to be defined, but the general idea is that it will access features such as driving directions and a phone book to make wireless cell phone calls from the car.

The Windows CE operating system is the foundation for many of Microsoft's more specialized operating systems for portable devices, such as Pocket PC 2002 for handhelds and Smartphone 2002 for mobile phones.

Many other big-name technology companies have been revving their efforts in the telematics industry, such as Intel and a Palm-backed company called MobileAria. The telematics industry is still in its relative infancy and has yet to be clearly defined. Some categorize it specifically as communications capabilities for in-car use and others more broadly include entertainment, such as playback of DVD videos in cars.

Microsoft has tried to develop a product for cars in the past and has largely failed, according to analyst Thilo Koslowski of market research firm Gartner, but its new effort may post different and improved results.

"Microsoft's AutoPC effort largely failed because they tried to dictate the technology, but now they are providing the tools and letting partners license and work with automakers," Koslowski said. AutoPC was Microsoft's first attempt at integrating PC functions into cars.

Last week the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a group of auto manufacturers and policy-makers promoting safety, announced guidelines for in-car communications devices to minimize driver distraction. Microsoft with its Windows CE for Automotive is aiming to become the software that partners will use as they develop new applications.

Microsoft is already working with companies such as ScanSoft, Fonix, Elan Informatique, Asahi Kasei and Hitachi, on text-to-speech engines and voice-recognition technologies that they hope to sell to automakers.

Microsoft has been busy in the telematics space, signing deals and partnerships with the likes of Accenture and BMW.

 

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