Frustrations with iPhone Voice Control

I’ll start off by saying that ANY of the current voice recognition systems out there today fall short of perfect (or even usable). I think we as a population have been lead to believe in the Star Trek model. The ideal that we can speak simple directions to a computer, and it will carry out those directions. The reality is that it’s a massive technical challenge for a machine to understand the human voice, but some machines do it better than others.

For the most part I love my iPhone. There are about 5 or 6 nit-picky things that I would like to see, but for a mass market device, it’s almost perfect. On the iPhone 3GS there is an option for Voice Control. The ideal is that you can press a button and “speak” some basic commands to the phone. The commands I think most people use concern making calls. So on the iPhone I can activate Voice Control, say something like “Call Kristen Tabor on Mobile”, and the iPhone will find Kristen Tabor in my address book and call her mobile number. Simple, except when the iPhone doesn’t quite understand me and calls my sister-in-law, Christina Tabor, by mistake. Fortunately, the iPhone does gives me back confirmation that its are calling the wrong number, but leaves me scrambling to terminate the call before I have to explain (again) to my bothers wife why I called her.

Now as I said, no voice recognition system is perfect. But I have used some that are better than the iPhone Voice Control. Not in terms of actually recognizing my voice, but in terms of usability. For a few years Microsoft has had a voice recognition system for their mobile platform called Voice Command, and I used the system when I was a Windows Mobile user. While I can’t really compare the quality of the voice recognition between the systems, I can say that Microsoft’s usability was I feel better than that of Apples. While it took a few more seconds to make a call on Microsoft’s Voice Command, the chances of making a wrong number call were much less.

On Microsoft’s Voice Command, a call was made like this:
1. Press Button to active Voice Command
2. After tone, I would say “Call Kristen Tabor on Mobile”
3. Voice Command would ask “Call Kristen Tabor on Mobile Phone?”
4. I would say “Yes”, and dialing would start.

While the steps 3 and 4 confirmation were simple, they dramatically reduced errors in dialing. Should the phone have miss-interrupted my voice and said “Call Christina Tabor on Mobile Phone?”, I had the option to say “no”, and the phone would prompt me to try again.

Additionally Microsoft’s Voice Command could give me more information than Apple’s Voice Control. Voice Command could tell me my schedule, next appoint, battery and single levels, control the media player, and announce incoming calls. Aside from dialing, Voice Control only has limited iPod operations. Of course Microsoft’s Voice Command was $50 add-on software package where Apple’s Voice Control is free with the iPhone 3GS.

I like the fact Apple is taking some initiative in this area, but having be burned by false dialing and missing the call announce feature, I’m going to hold off using Voice Control until it matures a bit.

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