Speech recognition is showing up in consumer products. The 2008 Ford Focus includes Sync, which was designed by Microsoft. The product was reviewed very favorably by Cnet. Sync gets two things very right. First, the speech recognition of the car's audio works well even in a car interior, which is usually a pretty noisy environment. Second, it's easy for the user to connect the car's speech rec system with the user's own Bluetooth-enabled phone. Drivers then have voice control over their own phones. As often happens, the acceptance and usage of the product depends on the product's usability, and in this case Ford gets it right with Sync. I haven't used the system, but I'm impressed with Cnet's review.
Why worry about voice activating communication media inside a car? Ford, for its part, seems to be rethinking its view of a vehicle as a thing that you drive from point A to point B. If you think about a car as an extension of your office or your home, then you start to put in features that you have come to expect in your office or home. Of course, in a vehicle you're constrained by the fact that drivers need to hold onto the steering wheel when they drive, so they need another way to control their communication devices.
Microsoft, for its part, has a vision of turning every phone and PC into an always-on virtual conferencing device, part of their Unified Communication vision. This product fits nicely into that vision. It allows drivers to conduct business while in their vehicles, which, if you commute, is an enormous time saver. People in the voice business sometimes refer to vehicles as "BAMDs" (big ass mobile devices). Ford's Sync is a big step in the direction of turning a lot of vehicles into BAMDs.