A trend has emerged with many of the leading smartphones and advanced feature phones introduced this year – a renewed focus on the core function of a mobile phone, the ability to talk.

New technologies aimed at enhancing voice quality to improve communications and speech-enabled services stand to have a big impact on the customer experience and will, once again, change how we use our mobile devices to connect to people and information.

Why is mobile voice a renewed focus?
By Manish SinghAs mobile devices advance to offer new data and multimedia features, the ability to have a conversation is still the most used, and most important mobile phone function among consumers. Call clarity also remains a key factor in determining customer satisfaction with wireless service quality, which in turn, impacts loyalty to mobile brands.

New communication modes are being added to smartphones, including video calling (e.g. FaceTime), Skype and multi-player gaming and other VoIP services that will drive expanded voice usage. Clear communication is critical to the performance and usability of these applications. More natural user interfaces such as speech and touch are also changing the mobile ecosystem by providing faster, easier access to communications and information, enhancing the utility of mobile devices and spurring new innovations to enrich the user experience.

What's driving this change?
Mobile handsets in general deliver good communications. But noise from the busy world around us often affects our ability to stay connected. If I were talking to you from a crowded street corner, you would hear me along with lots of other chatter, traffic noise, sirens passing by, and more –making it difficult, if not impossible, to hear and be heard. Noise is an issue that has forced mobile users to adapt their behavior, limiting when and where they can use their phones to communicate and be productive.

Now, new technologies are solving the challenge of noise interference, improving voice quality and suppressing background sounds to deliver clear communications nearly anywhere. And leading carriers and handset makers have moved quickly to incorporate advanced voice processing capabilities to bring the benefit of enhanced voice clarity to an array of devices.

What are the solutions?
There are different technologies offering varied capabilities in the market, but the voice processing solution featured in some of this year's most acclaimed products from the Google/HTC Nexus One to the Motorola Droid X, Apple's iPhone 4, select Windows Phone 7 devices and multiple handsets from AT&T, includes two microphones linked with a voice processor in the phone to improve voice clarity.

While the specific configurations and features may vary, we can look at the Nexus One device as an example of this advanced voice processing. The January 2010 Nexus One phone launch marked the start of this trend to bring advanced voice processing to leading handsets. The two microphones at opposite ends of the handset are used to collect the user's voice, plus all the surrounding noise. These sounds are then processed by the chip, which in this application, is designed to operate much like the human hearing system to distinguish sounds, isolate the primary voice conversation and filter out the unwanted background noise. The end result is clear communications for the person on the other end of the line, and the caller can also hear and speak naturally, without having to talk over the noise.

What are the benefits?
For mobile users, these voice processing technologies deliver higher call quality, for a better communications experience. A voice processing chip also eliminates the effect of environmental noise as a constraint on usage, so customers can make or take calls in more places, to stay connected anytime.

The Future for Voice Technology
Mobile devices have evolved to serve as communications, computing and information-gathering tools, which now require more complete interface technologies such as full keyboards and touch screens to allow efficient data entry and access. Moving beyond touch and tap, future advancements will include more natural user interfaces, such as voice, to provide faster, easier ways to link to communications, information, social connections, entertainment and more.

Voice provides a more direct and intuitive way to control and interact with a device and its applications. The Google Android and Windows Phone 7 systems have already incorporated voice input as an element of the user experience. For voice interfaces to be effective and available anytime, anywhere, these new user interface modes need to be supported by voice processing technologies that can isolate the voice of interest, and suppress disruptive background noise. Some of the latest voice processing chips include advancements that optimize performance for speech recognition services.

Speech-driven applications, and the technologies that optimize these services to work in any environment, will revolutionize mobile communications and computing. Voice interaction can create richer user experiences that are simple to use, engage more consumers, expand the market for applications and foster new innovations.

Voice will always be an essential component of a mobile phone experience. As smartphones and mobile services evolve, voice will be a driver for many new applications that improve how we interact with, use and derive value from mobile products.

Manish Singh is vice president of Marketing at Audience. Prior to joining the company, Singh directed business and marketing strategies for the DisplayPort and Monitor business units at STMicroelectronics.