E-Commerce Gets a Voice

Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HWP) and voice recognition technology startup Talk2 Technology, Inc. announced a strategic alliance Wednesday to launch a service that allows people to access the Internet and shop by telephone — whether wired or wireless.

The new technology would allow people to use voice commands to get information, trade stocks or make purchases. The service works by translating the user’s voice commands into computer-typed commands behind-the-scenes, so that people can access popular Web sites by voice.

Deal With HP

HP agreed to make an equity investment in Talk2, which has developed the service, and to provide enterprise-class hardware to power the new technology. The two companies said they will also run joint marketing initiatives and collaborate on product development, such as integrating Talk2’s WebVoice service into HP’s e-speak Web brokering technology.

The WebVoice technology works with simple spoken commands, allowing access to content such as e-mail, local information and shopping services from any Web site or company Intranet. Talk2 plans to compete with Web-enabled personal digital assistants and cellular telephones, as well as with PCs and laptop computers.

Though a special Web access device is not needed, the WebVoice technology does have to be accessed through what Talk2 calls its Voice Internet Portal. That site, which users call from a phone, acts as the interface between the caller and any Internet site, reading the site’s choices and translating the user’s words into Internet commands.

Talk2 says its service is now in beta test mode with a “large wireless carrier” that the company has declined to name. The service is slated to become available to consumers in the second quarter of this year and will be available in multiple languages.

HP’s Selective Partnerships

HP has been relatively selective about forming partnerships in the new Internet arena, focusing on allies that can help it continue to use its core capacity as a computer products manufacturer. For example, the company has teamed with Stamps.com in a distribution and marketing alliance to bundle print-it-yourself stamp software with HP printers sold to businesses and consumers.

HP is also working with Viant (Nasdaq: VIAN) to create “e-services” that will perform specific tasks and transactions for online businesses and with privately held Ariba to launch Ariba.com, a business-to-business commerce network for operating resources over the Internet.

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