Report: Microsoft Mulling $800 Million Tellme Acquisition
In the not-too-distant future, you might simply tell Microsoft where you want to go today -- in your own voice, on your phone. That future might come one step closer to reality if Microsoft buys Tellme Networks for a reported $800 million.
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the companies are in the final stages of negotiations, with a deal that might be signed later this week.
Tellme develops voice-recognition software for the Web, such as the Tellme mobile application. The free, Java-based software works on Java-enabled mobile phones, allowing the user to find 411 information simply by talking.
If you don't have a Java-enabled phone, you can find 411 information through Tellme's SMS service. Tellme also offers business search and services that list sports scores, restaurant information, and driving directions.
'Voice Recognition 2.0'
Launched in 1999 by former executives from Netscape, Microsoft, and other established companies, Tellme operates several 411 services. The profitable, Mountain View, California-based company has raised $239 million in venture funding.
"This is voice recognition 2.0," said Laura DiDio, a Yankee Group analyst. "The first wave was aimed at providing assistive functionality for workers with some disabilities," she said, as well as providing a screening front-end for interactive voice response systems.
Tellme, she noted, is going further, "melding Web, telecom, and data. For business, it opens up a world of possibilities, not the least of which is what we call 'the consumerization of I.T.'" This could point to I.T. support, she said, that is friendly and automated.
New Products, New Linkages
"Fifteen years ago," DiDio explained, "the state-of-the-art in informational services was in the office, not the home. As the prices have come down, and the Web has exploded, and portable devices have become powerful and relatively inexpensive, that's not the case anymore. Tellme, if embedded in Microsoft products, could bring the 'anywhere' experience that consumers are beginning to enjoy, to the enterprise."
It could also open up new products and services offered by businesses other than telecoms, she said, and it could mean new linkages for Microsoft between its various businesses and products.
Tellme reports that it has up to 40 million users each month making billions of calls to a wide variety of phone-based services. According to its Web site, it powers "nearly 40 percent of the U.S. directory assistance (411) calls." Its clients include Cingular, Fedex, Verizon, Dominos, Merrill Lynch, E*Trade, and American Airlines.
Microsoft has reportedly been interested in the phone as the entry point for a whole new era in informational services, especially as the phone merges with PDAs, music devices, and GPS units.