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Voice Control, the End of the TV Remote?

Samsung, LG, and others are racing to bring voice control to the TV set

Before he died on Oct. 5, Steve Jobs left clues that he was working on a new product that would revolutionize how we interact with our TVs. “It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine,” he said to biographer Walter Isaacson, and will eliminate the collections of remote controls that litter living rooms. After years of struggling with the Apple TV set-top box, which was never a huge success, “I finally cracked it,” he said.

No one knows for sure what “it” is, and Isaacson isn’t saying. But many tech executives agree that an Apple TV set is likely to make use of humankind’s most natural interface: the voice. Already, millions of Apple customers are talking to their new iPhone 4S, thanks to a program called Siri that tries to provide an answer to questions like, “How’s the weather today?” Whether the rumors are true that Apple is planning to release a TV set by 2013, Siri-like voice recognition is headed for the living room. Microsoft is already there, via its Xbox 360 game console, and Comcast, Samsung Electronics, LG, and Sharp are working on voice-enabled features for TV sets, set-top boxes, and related products. Mike Thompson, senior vice-president at Nuance Communications, the world’s largest supplier of voice recognition technology, says “a wave” of device makers will ship products that understand voice commands next year.