Gadgets and Gizmos (India) - - COMPUTING - BY TUSHAR KAN­WAR

Ah, Siri. The prom­ise of hav­ing your own full-time flunky, ready to per­form me­nial tasks that you don’t have time for, is a big part of the ap­peal of the iphone 4S, and one that has cap­tured the public imag­i­na­tion like few other phone fea­tures have. Is it wrong to ex­pect such slav­ish at­ten­tive­ness from your other plat­forms? Here’s how you can get Siri-like fea­tures on the plat­form of your choice.

Be warned though that while talk­ing to your gad­gets might still be in its in­fancy, the fu­ture, where we will be voice-com­mand­ing, even con­vers­ing with them, isn’t that far away.



App-savvy An­droid own­ers have, in all fair­ness, had voice recog­ni­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties for a while now. For in­stance, Voice Ac­tions, a Google fea­ture in­tro­duced for An­droid 2.2 de­vices, lets users call con­tacts, send mes­sages and email, com­plete com­mon tasks like play­ing mu­sic, find­ing a lo­ca­tion on the map, search­ing the web etc. Part of Google’s Voice Search, the app ex­pects you to use set phrases in­stead of the con­ver­sa­tion lan­guage you can use with Siri, and doesn’t al­ways re­turn a voice-re­sult, forc­ing you to read the re­sults off the screen. An­other al­ter­na­tive, al­beit awk­wardly named, is the Speak­toit As­sis­tant. Un­like other as­sis­tants, this one ac­tu­ally presents you with an an­i­mated per­son on screen with whom you can talk to, and even cus­tomise their ap­pear­ance. It han­dles most tasks such as mak­ing calls, check­ing weather and search­ing for an­swers to ques­tions with elan, and even tran­scribes mes­sages and sta­tus up­dates for Face­book and Twit­ter. And while other al­ter­na­tives ex­ist in the form of Vlingo, Ed­win, Jean­nie and Eva, the most promis­ing one by far is Iris. Yes, if the name sounds fa­mil­iar, that’s be­cause it is Siri spelt back­wards, and its de­vel­op­ers have no qualms about their in­spi­ra­tion (Iris stands for In­tel­li­gent Ri­val Im­i­ta­tion of Siri). The in­ter­face is sim­i­lar and while it is no equal to Siri at this point, its de­vel­op­ers have been up­dat­ing it fre­quently. With Siri not le­git­i­mately avail­able for any IOS de­vices other than the 4S, IOS users were left out of the Siri party, this de­spite the ipad2 sport­ing hard­ware that is ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing the Siri gym­nas­tics. Yes, iphone users have had Voice Con­trol since the 3GS, which you can use to per­form sim­ple com­mands like “Call Neha” or play a song from your li­brary, but that’s pretty much where the func­tion­al­ity stops. For more, try the Vlingo Voice App, which uses voice com­mands to let users dic­tate an email, send a text mes­sage or up­date their so­cial net­work sta­tus, in ad­di­tion to the reg­u­lars – mak­ing a call, find­ing some­place on the map or just a plain old web search. Un­like Siri, you will have to keep Vlingo’s lingo in mind and say one of four com­mands be­fore the re­quest: find, search, so­cial up­date or call (Vlingo is avail­able for An­droid, Black­berry, IOS and Nokia plat­forms). If it is just web search you’re in­ter­ested in, the Google app for IOS al­lows you to use voice com­mands in­stead of typ­ing in a search query. And since it ties into Google, the app can use lo­ca­tion to help you find movie times, lo­cal busi­nesses etc. (Nu­ance has a num­ber of ex­cel­lent Dragon voice com­mand and con­trol apps that are not avail­able in the In­dian App Store)


Why should smart­phones have all the fun? PC users on Win­dows 7 can head over to Start > Con­trol Panel > Ease of Ac­cess > Speech Recog­ni­tion, and click on "Start Speech Recog­ni­tion”. Go through the wizard to de­tect your mi­cro­phone and then take the highly rec­om­mended tu­to­rial – it’s a lit­tle lengthy, but will help you learn how to use speech recog­ni­tion, while train­ing your com­puter to learn the way you speak. Once done, you can use Speech Recog­ni­tion to do a num­ber of things, like open or switch to pro­grams, min­imise or close win­dows and more. On a Mac, head over to Sys­tem Pref­er­ences, then click on the Speech op­tions to en­able the fea­ture. Once cal­i­brated, the Speak­able Items fea­ture on the Mac lets you do a ton of things with­out lift­ing a fin­ger. Granted, it doesn’t have the con­ver­sa­tion value of Siri, but if you’re in the mood for truly aw­ful knock-knock jokes, you can even com­mand your Mac to tell you one!

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