ETrade provides a great mobile app experience on iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry. I think it’s almost expected that the feature-set provided by the dedicated native mobile applications are not quite the same. The Windows version and especially the one for Blackberry fall far behind what ETrade has to offer on Android and iOS.
For instance, in April 2012, Speech Recognition was first added to their iPhone (not iPad) mobile application and later to the Android app as well; allowing the user to request stock quotes, options chains, company information, or to launch the stock order, just by using voice.
“Investors are becoming more accustomed to interacting with voice-enabled technology, and we’re proud to be one of the first to offer this innovative feature to our mobile users,” said Michael Curcio, President, ETRADE Securities. “By integrating voice technology, ETRADE provides a mobile experience unlike any other – creating a state-of-the-art and convenient approach to navigation.”
ETrade uses speech recognition and speech synthesis software provided by Nuance Communications, Inc. The application is feature-packed, comes as an 11 MB download, and is not, what you would call a thin client. Only a very few of those features however, are accessible through Voice Commands.
Available Voice Commands
- “Price [symbol or name]”
- “Can I get a quote on [symbol or name]?”
- “Please give me the stock price on [symbol or name]”
- “I would like news on [symbol or name]”
- “News [symbol or name]”
- “Can I get some news on [symbol or name]?”
Company Options Chains
- “Can I get options chains on [symbol or name]”
- “Give me options on [symbol or name]”
- Take me to the dashboard”
- “Show me my accounts please”
- “I would like to see my alerts”
- “Can I see my watchlists”
- “Show me my portfolios”
Stock Order Ticket
- “Buy 50 shares of [symbol or name]”
- “Buy 75 shares of [symbol or name] at limit price 9 dollars and 50 cents”
- “Sell my holdings on [symbol or name]”
- “Sell 200 shares of [symbol or name]”
- “Sell 50 shares of [symbol or name] at limit price of 10 dollars”
When it comes to interpreting voice inputs, the Etrade app is much more forgiving than Google’s. For instance, while only “Take me to the dashboard” is listed as a voice command,
“Open the dashboard” or “Show me the dashboard”, or “Can I see the dashboard”, is understood and does open the application’s dashboard view. However, the monotone voice and demeanor of the bot suggests some kind of bitterness, more than even Apple’s Siri does. This of course is hight subjective.
Besides what is listed as an available voice command, the Etrade app doesn’t seem to be very communicative. Simple questions like “How did the market close today?”,“How are you?”, or “What is your name?” all trigger the same answer “One moment please – I’m sorry I could not process that.“
Dissecting the mobile application
Once the microphone button is pressed, a voice prompt is played “How can I help you?” and the application goes into listening mode. It will keep listing until a drop in amplitude is recognized. I.e., if I didn’t say anything, it kept listening, probably until the phone runs out of battery.
When an amplitude drop is recognized, the sound recording is sent for speech recognition and acknowledged with another voice prompt: “One moment please.”
The recognition of an input like “Please give me the stock price on Apple” creates a spoken output like “Price 439.88 Change Percent Minus 2.36 Percent”. The time between the end of the request and the beginning of the response is a little over 5 seconds. However, the voice prompt “One moment please” and the fact that the app shows a view with the requested quote, even before it starts playing the synthesized response, are clever tricks to obscure the relative long delay.
Since the application doesn’t seem to include the standard Nuance Voice Kit, I am assuming the sound file is not streamed during the recording (the forever listing behavior would be another indication), but rather encoded and sent via HTTP POST once the recording has stopped.
The response is synthesized by a Web-service, instead of on the mobile device itself. While this has the advantage that no high quality voice synthesizer needs to be deployed with the app, the pre-recorded and included voice prompts sound differently, in quality and also noticeably in loudness.
ETrade has done a great first step, voice-enabling their mobile application. It’s better than Google’s Voice Commands, since it’s much less rigid. And while voice and demeanor remind us of Siri, it’s good to see trailblazers like Etrade pioneering Voice User Interfaces on mobile.