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 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?
Update: Phil Hendrix at Gigaom seems to agree.