Thursday, April 9, 2009

QWERTY is Mainstream?

Touch screens and QWERTY keyboards on mobile devices are finally mainstream just about the time when they really should be obsolete. That’s too bad, really. Voice control should be mainstream, not qwerty keypads. I should be be able to have basic mobile phone control and mobile communications without reaching for my phone and poking around on it.

It’s 2009. For mobile devices, touches, swipes, swirls, stabs and keypads are archaic. Phones should be heard, not seen.

How close are we?

Microsoft Voice Command is a partial solution. It allows basic phone control with speaker independent voice. It works with Bluetooth so I can tap the headset and say things like ‘call Jake Botts at home’ or ‘dial 612 555 1212’ and it generally figures out what I want. It also allows voice access to the calendar (‘What’s my schedule’), and can navigate menus and contacts (‘show Jake Botts’ or ‘start solitaire’ or ‘start google maps’). Additionally, it reads incoming SMS’s & messages and announces incoming phone calls by name or number. It’s not comprehensive though. Once the command executes, Voice Command drops out of the picture. So I’m still stuck with viewing and touching the phone.

Motorola (and probably others) have similar features. Motorola’s speaker independent voice dialing was great at recognizing my voice with a bluetooth headset at 80mph in a convertible. But then it would sometimes get confused in a quiet room. Go figure.

Microsoft Live Search does fairly decent voice recognition on a limited set of tasks. It suffers from a few flaws. It doesn’t use bluetooth and it doesn’t speak back to me. It also fails the ‘context’ test. I tell it ‘traffic’ and instead of showing me a traffic map, it searches for driving schools. And in most cases, it’s still touch dependent.

I know about Jott and Nuance, but haven’t tried either one, and my carrier appears to offer an add-on service that has some interesting features. Vlingo has something that looks close, but it is still touch dependent. My vision is to be able to do what Vlingo can do without taking my phone from my pocket. Adando tries to solve the problem  using your home computer as the smart part of the equation. Your phone bridges your voice back to your home PC. You PC does all the work. Clever, I guess.

I think Apple send us down the wrong path by perfecting the touch-swipe-stab-pinch-flick interface. I can’t do any of those while driving in a convertible at 80 mph. ( Well…I can, but I really shouldn’t… )

Its about time we re-think phone interfaces, isn’t it?


  1. Phones have always had terrible UIs, and even though the iPhone worked on that some they took a step backwards by not having any sort of voice command system. So yeah, I'm with you. I'd love to be able to talk to my phone, and have it talk right back to me.

  2. No, it's not stupid that phones have QWERTY keyboards. Noone wants to stand in a bus and have to talk to their cell phone. Jott was annoying to use because I was talking to noone on the other end and it was completely obvious. Typing is reasonable and quiet so it can be used when other people are around. Privacy.

    I agree that having a voice control interface would be useful for the car (see Microsoft Sync for cars) but it's only really useful if you're in your own personal space. Using it when other people are around would make you a jackass.

  3. @Mike - Why is telling your phone to 'call mom' and then talking to her any more awkward than pecking out her phone number and talking to her? In either case, there will be times and places where you will not want to have an open voice conversation for whatever reason.

    But I'll maintain that a voice interface would be usable in many cases, such as in any case where you would normally talk out loud on the phone anyway (office, cube, car, home) and for me, those locations represent the majority of my day. In many cases I tend to not text communicate simply because of the awkwardness of touch typing while walking down the sidewalk or crossing the road.

    We need both interfaces.

  4. Sorry but I think voice control will end just like videocalls and (back in the 90's) virtual reality. Something that most people DO NOT like or find really useful. I mean, basic voice control in phones it's been there for years (I'm pretty sure I owned a phone before 2000 which already had voice control).