Gone are the days of endlessly tapping on a key-pad to obtain information by telephone. The latest voice portal enables callers to access lifestyle information and perform transactions simply by speaking their preferences on the phone. SmartCaller, a multi-lingual interactive voice portal developed by Hong Kong-based InfoTalk Corp, offers immediate information to users via the telephone, both fixed lines or mobile, using technology that comprehends spoken commands. SmartCaller is supported by another InfoTalk innovation, e-t@lk , which is a multilingual speech-understanding engine. A wide range of lifestyle and financial information is available from SmartCaller. This includes stock prices, foreign-exchange rates, horse-racing results, weather forecasts, lottery results, horoscopes and even the Chinese almanac. The application is user-friendly and has clinched another award for InfoTalk, which has already won numerous industry awards for the development of e-t@lk in the past two years. SmartCaller won the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Certificate of Merit in Technological Achievement this year. InfoTalk founder and chief executive officer Alex Leung Hong-chung says SmartCaller is designed to enable users to get information and perform transactions any time, anywhere by using the most basic form of communication, the voice. The innovation, designed to increase customer satisfaction, is ideal for sectors such as telecommunications, banking and finance as well as government departments and utilities, according to the company. Mr Leung, who was involved in developing the world's first spoken-language computer system, says the company has developed a Cantonese program for the Hong Kong market and a Putonghua system for Beijing and Taiwan. The prevalence of the telephone means voice applications can reach a broader audience faster than most other interfaces, according to analysts. And because voice applications are based on existing platforms, integration and management should be relatively painless, they add. InfoTalk, founded in 1996, focuses on Asian languages, and it has developed technology capable of recognising numerous Chinese dialects and understanding different English accents. The company's flagship product, e-t@lk , is used by the Bank of East Asia, China Telecom, the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Hong Kong & China Gas, Pacific Century CyberWorks and Taiwan Paging Networks. Headquartered in Hong Kong, InfoTalk has branches in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Singapore and Taipei. The company's main investors include Accenture Technology Ventures, HSBC Private Equity (Asia), imGo and Walden International. Strategic partners include Compaq, Edify, Intel, itApps, NMS Communications, Nortel Networks, PCCW and Sun MicroSystems. The company plans to expand by improving e-t@lk and its customer-support services in Japanese, Korean, Thai and Malaysian. According to analysts, sentiment for the Internet protocol (IP) telephony market remains upbeat, despite the economic downturn. International Data Corp expects the IP telephony market for the region to double every year for the next five years to reach US$6.9 billion by 2005. The Southeast Asia market, in particular, will be a key growth area because of continuing market deregulation.