The Phone Whisperers – why we talk to phones


It’s funny. Steve Jobs always used to talk about giving the people what they want before they knew they wanted it. In my experience with mobile technology, nothing has proven this concept more than voice control. It started with Windows Mobile voice control years ago. It came to the mainstream with Siri a few generations ago – generations from a mobile tech perspective that is. It continued forward with Google Now. Today, in addition to the aforementioned assistants, we have Cortana finally gracing the last platform hold-out.

Being the Windows Phone fan that I am, I haven’t really had the chance to fully immerse myself in the voice control experience. My Pre3 had some extremely limited voice dial capability. Windows Phone had what I used to call “Baby Siri” for voice dialing and texting. Even my Samsung GS3 had S-Voice and in my humble opinion, the “S” did not stand for Samsung so much as another word that only had four letters in it. So voice control wasn’t really an option for me until recently.

Enter voice

I picked up a Nexus 5 not long ago, because it’s an awesome phone with a low price tag, and because I wanted to give the “pure Android experience” a thorough run. One thing that the Nexus comes with is Google Now, which continues to blow my mind, day after day. The versatility and accuracy is astounding and continues to impress. It’s one of those features that, now that I have it, I can’t – won’t – live without it. Which is why I am so thankful for Cortana.

In a way, things have come full circle. Ask Adam Lein about Windows Mobile voice control and he’s a pastor on Sunday. He’s very passionate about what Windows Mobile used to do, especially when considered against what Cortana does today. That’s largely because voice control of your phone has a lot of things going for it.


It’s cool. Maybe it’s not cool in a hit-the-jukebox-to-turn-it-on kind of way, but it’s pretty cool to show off to your friends. Those witty answers about Bill Gates and what the fox says and all that are just oozing cool points. So from a fun to show off at parties perspective, these all have what’s going on.

It’s also easier than a lot of controls. This is the part of the argument that gets a lot of friction. What about voice control is easier? Well, it cuts down on a lot of tapping on the phone for one, or it least it can depending on how you have your phone set up. But telling your phone to display the weather can be a lot easier than opening the app drawer, tapping on the icon and oops-I-tapped-on-the-wrong-one, and so on. I know, I know – widgets and live tiles. You got me.

Driving in my car, beep beep

I drive a lot, and that’s where I find voice control to be the most critical. Making and receiving voice calls, having texts read to me, etc. is great to have when your hands are more appropriately occupied. But nothing about this is new. Since we’re talking about driving, it’s fair to mention that some studies actually show that using hands free voice controls is actually more dangerous than talking on the phone in the first place. I’m sure I’m not alone in that I’ve had 20 minute long conversations with my car’s voice control just to dial a single 10 digit number because it would omit digits, or insert extra digits or sometimes just get the digits wrong. That can be quite the exercise in frustration, and if the billboards along the side of the highway are to be believed, we do not need more frustration during our driving experience.

P90047026Beyond that, voice control and voice assistants really need to evolve to another level to reach their full potential. It’s not good enough to read back texts when told to or to launch apps when told to. Rather voice control needs to become that actual personal assistant that Cortana and Siri and Google Now long to be. Our phones really need to learn about us and our voices as much as we need to learn how to use our voices to control them.

Title here. Period. Carriage return

Several of us have talked about how punctuation needs to be more natural (or in Cortana’s case – possible). Dictating an email or text message isn’t easy when the conversation has to be disjointed enough for us to insert periods, spaces, carriage returns etc. That’s what we’re still lacking in voice control – control.

But improvements are being made all the time. It’ll get there, some day. But in the meantime, it’s the future, so we may as well all start getting using to it. Between that and wireless charging, there’s enough to be geeked about what’s to come. I plan to use the living heck out of Cortana, Google Now or Siri – whoever happens to be the voice du jour on my phone of the week. I will learn it, and hopefully some day it will learn me.

In the meantime, what is your stand on voice control? Love it? Hate it? Don’t see the point? Can’t live without? Sound off down below and let us know.


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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs.Read more about Adam Doud!