Digital Toolbox

Your New Personal Assistant

If you have a smart phone – iOS, Android or Blackberry – you now have access to apps that use voice recognition to give you some pretty amazing support. Siri [iOS – free] is categorized as a “beta” app, but it’s a most amazing beta. Only available on the iPhone 4S, this app can find restaurants, movies and even taxis. You can make reservations through Open Table just by telling Siri to do it. It will remind you of events and appointments, give you weather reports and send email or text messages you dictate to it. Even Santa finds it useful.

If you’re drooling, but don’t have an iPhone 4S, there’s another option – Vlingo [Android, Blackberry, iOS, Windows Mobile – free and no-ad versions]. It can do pretty much everything that Siri can do and it also has an In-Car service to give you hands-free access to get directions, “read” (Vlingo reads the message to you) and send email and text messages, dictate notes and reminders and much more. It transcribes my dictated messages with fewer mistakes than my fat fingers make on my phone’s tiny keyboard.

This video demonstration gives you an idea how Vlingo’s In-Car service works.

To use Vlingo in the car, you’ll need some kind of Bluetooth headset or speaker phone. And, since Bluetooth use can drain your phone’s battery rather quickly, a car charger would also be a good idea.

I don’t spend enough time in the car to justify all the in-car functionality, but I sure am finding Vlingo useful for dictating emails and Twitter/Facebook updates. Unlike Siri for the iPhone, Vlingo isn’t integrated into many other apps (yet?). While both apps make it easy to find movies or book a hotel room, with Siri you can also add appointments to your calendar or set reminders. Just last week Nuance (as in Dragon Dictate Nuance) announced it was buying Vlingo. I’m hoping this means that application integration and other goodies aren’t far off.

It will take some time and practice before I can converse with an invisible computer with the style of Captain Kirk on the Enterprise, but it looks like the technology to do just that is almost upon us. Those awful headsets still need work. They’re almost as bulky as that thing Lt. Uhura always had stuck in her ear.

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