I’ve been a fan, follower, and have dabbled in software development of speech recognition applications since the genre began in earnest in the 1980′s.  I’ve always felt that when the technology advanced to the point of being truly useful, it could prove to be a big productivity booster.

While I still find speech recognition to be of limited use on a PC, when it comes to phones and handhelds, it’s a different story!  The small form factor, as well as the fact that it’s often used in situations where use of one’s hands is limited, makes the PDA or smartphone a natural fit in my view.

Over time, I’ve tried a number of handheld voice applications, but generally came away disappointed.  Not any more!  If you use a Blackberry, iPhone, Windows Mobile device, or some selected Nokia handhelds, then you can run Vlingo.

Previous versions of this application worked pretty well, but they’ve just released an upgrade, v4.0, for the Blackberry platform, which I’ve been using for about a month now with great success. There’s a free version with limited functionality, but they’re offering the full paid “Vlingo Plus” version 4.0 at an introductory price of $14.99 – not bad!

In short, Vlingo Plus lets you do most anything you would do on your Blackberry by talking to it – sending e-mail and text messages, making phone calls, doing web searches, and lots more.  You can say “Note to self” and then dictate your note, and it will create an Outlook task for you (or an e-mail or text message to yourself, if you prefer).  For you Twitter and Facebook fans, you can use Vlingo to tweet or update your status just by speaking.  The new 4.0 Vlingo Plus release adds the capability to speak text into virtually anywhere that you would normally type (they call this “Vlingo Everywhere”).

While its recognition is not perfect, I find it quite accurate – finally, a speech recognition application worth using!  It’s based on a new technology (called a Hierarchical Language Model) which is largely the secret to its success.  It also learns as you use it, meaning it gets even smarter over time.

You can check it out at www.vlingo.com.  If you try it, post a comment here and let me know how it works for you.  Does it make you more productive?