Try Participate Learning — Better teaching through digital resources.

Android ups the ante on voice activation

by Eric Benderoff

Why type a text message when you can speak one? (Or maybe you can make an actual call?) Also in today's App Industry Roundup, we look at the cable industry's new embrace of the iPad and Apple's mixed messages about nudity.

Can you hear me now?

Droid 2

When it works, it's hard not to be impressed by voice activation to make calls or get driving directions. I've experimented with voice tools on Android phones, BlackBerries and the iPhone for as long as different voice tools were offered. Google's voice search is mostly great, even in crowded rooms, a

nd I have fun emailing relatives snippets of "cute things the kids say" using the iPhone's built-in Voice Memos app.

With the release of Android 2.2, it looks like Android is upping the ante on voice activation. Called Voice Actions for Android, this new suite of voice tools includes some old favorites -- such as call contacts, voice search or get driving directions -- and combines it with new voice commands to send a text message, write a memo and go to a website. You can even use it to play a song from your favorite band.

It's all pretty cool and darn useful, and an awesome integration of existing commands with the new. (Google offers a video and demonstration of the new tools on its official blog page.)

The voice commands will be familiar to anyone who drives to work and needs to make calls, as mobile phones and Bluetooth earpieces have offered voice tools for years. Here's a few things you can say to activate the voice features:

  • send text to [contact] [message]
  • listen to [artist/song/album]
  • call [business]
  • send email to [contact] [message]
  • go to [website]
  • note to self [note]
  • navigate to [location/business name]

I've found the navigation tools in particular to be of great use, particularly if you use Swype for typing. I love Swype but it's lousy for driving directions. The combination of numbers and often oddly named streets can mess up Swype's usefulness, and it's hard to Swype if you have your Android phone in dash-board mounted dock. Instead, just speak the directions. In my tests using a Motorola Droid X, it's been fantastic.

The suite of voice activation tools require Android 2.2 (nicknamed Froyo), which ships with the Motorola Droid 2 (now on sale at Verizon). With older Android phones, a software update -- or several -- may be required to activate Voice Actions. Also, it's a U.S.-only product that works exclusively in English.

Cable embraces iPad

Time Warner Cable is developing an iPad app that will allow for "on-demand" TV viewing as well as turn your touch-screen gizmo into a TV remote. Comcast is also working on an app to provide such services, but its unclear if it will be part of its existing app or a new product.

Time Warner Cable's Jason Gaedtke, vice president of Web Services, said the goal is to allow users to publish and consume content on the iPad, and control how video is experienced in the house. Using the app -- you can watch a demo here -- Time Warner customers can find a show to watch and then opt to watch now. Basically, that sounds a lot like a fancy remote. There will also be a streaming option for content to play on the iPad, but details on partnerships and price were not available.

Apple's dirty secrets

Playboy iPad appApple apparently has two minds over so-called 'dirty apps,' or those that have images and pictures of a sexual nature. Apple has banned apps that show nudity or offer adult-only themes, but it seems like its censorship is not cut and dry.

For instance, Playboy now has an iPad app -- minus any pictorials of naked woman (that will be a big hit, I'm sure) -- while the British tabloid The Sun can run topless pictures of Page 3 girls.

This story from Daily Finance looks at the issue, but doesn't come to any conclusions -- other than Apple may have different rules for U.K iPad readers than those in the U.S.