Following up to this post, where I ponder what happened to a certain Microsoft software product that seemed way ahead of its time hit the market and disappeared with almost no fanfare.
At my new job, I just got my phone configured. It's an IP phone that plugs into an ethernet jack (and apparently draws power from that jack as well, as there is no other power cord), and once it connected and downloaded all its necessary updates, the IT guy walked me through some of the features.
He directed me to set up my voicemail account. He pressed the voicemail button, and a friendly-sounding, female, synthesized voice announced, "Welcome to Microsoft Exchange." He then gave me a quick overview of the features available, which included the ability to access my email from my phone.
It would appear that Microsoft Phone grew up, moved out of the house, and got a job in the corporate world.
It certainly has come a long way. One of the "cool" features he demonstrated was the voice-activated directory. He pushed "Directory", and the voice prompt asked for the name of the person to call. In his moderate southeast Asian accent, and in a relatively soft voice, he spoke the name of the coworker in a neighboring cubicle. Within a second, the computer repeated the name (which it got exactly right on the first try), asked for confirmation, and then proceeded to dial.
Later, when I set up my voicemail account (setting my own PIN, greeting message, etc.), I experimented a bit. One of the options presented to me was "Calendar". I chose that option, specified "Today" (at which point the computer told me I could just say "Calendar for today" at the main menu to get straight to this point), and the computer proceeded to read to me my appointments for the day.
The voice synthesis was very clear. While it could never compare to seeing the information on the screen where you could glance at any piece of information at will instead of waiting for it to be read to you, it was no different than, say, the difference between reading a book and listening to an audiobook version of the same. All of the commands were done by voice. At no time did I have to repeat a command that the computer didn't hear, nor did it misinterpret any command I gave it; and I didn't speak any louder or exaggerate my pronounciation when I gave my commands. Although, the whole interchange was a little slow, considering I had to wait at the end of each operation for the computer to give me a list of all the things I was "allowed" to say. (I would imagine that accuracy goes way up when the number of possible inputs is constrained.) It was still far easier than the laughable experience I had trying to use voice controls in Windows Vista.
I am a little disappointed that this product does not appear to be available for the home anymore. More than once, I've been away from home and wished I could have easy access to an email when all I had was my phone. However, I think they're probaby dead on in their target market. It seems like people are using their cell phones more than their home computers as their address books and calendars, so the need to "phone home" just isn't there. Those who do access email on the road tend to pay for a data plan for their cell phones, so they can scan through email visually instead of having it read to them linearly — a huge advantage on a home email account that may get email from hundreds of sources, most of it spam that gets through filters. On the flip side, business email accounts tend to be more business-focused (in my experience; YMMV), so hearing unread email can be less of an exercise in "sifting through junk". Also, providing a phone access path to check information means that all employees can access their personal accounts without providing or provisioning VPN accounts, company cell phones, data plans, etc.