Vlingo Review

Vlingo Review

Dec 14, 2011

With the launch of the iPhone 4S and iOS 5, Apple introduced Siri, your own personal assistant fembot. While it isn’t likely that anything as polished and professionally done as Siri will be available to Android users anytime soon, Vlingo makes an impressive alternative for fans of the green robot. Vlingo’s biggest asset, aside from its amazing voice recognition, is knowing when to stop and not try to directly challenge Siri. Vlingo is much more than a voice command app; it’s also a hub for text messaging, social networking, web search, maps, and more.

I will come out and say it: I’ve never been a big fan of Google Voice Commands. I feel that the commands have to be too specific and there aren’t enough options even though it is incredibly accurate. So that’s why I’m surprised that I enjoy using Vlingo so much. It’s quick, accurate, and forgiving. And when writing a text message for example, everything is done within Vlingo, forgoing the need to open more apps and slow down the process. Another surprising thing is how accurate it is in determining the usually unorthodox names of surrounding places. I found it to be rare that it couldn’t understand what I was looking for.

There is also a hands free mode for those who use their phones in the car and this can be activated by simply calling out “Hey Vlingo.” This option is still in beta mode but seems very polished, and the option to read text messages back to you works very well, but I found that if you’re using a messaging app that has pop up notifications they do appear in front of the app, making you look away and close the pop up before having Vlingo read it to you.

Going with a very cool color scheme, the design of Vlingo is very easy on the eyes. The blue, orange, and black color scheme with transparent tiles, custom icons, and the giant blue “Speak It” button make this one attractive app. There are also four widgets that come baked in: your standard search widget, a bar that gives quick access to four voice commands, and two individual voice command and text reading toggles.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this app to heavy users, those who have long commutes, and those who love voice commands. Oh, did I mention that it’s free?

The Hills Are Greener: Defusing Thermonuclear War

The Hills Are Greener: Defusing Thermonuclear War

Nov 7, 2011

The “thermonuclear war” quote that has been popularized since the release of the Steve Jobs biography (available on the Android Market!) has been fodder for many internet pundits (myself included) to comment on the feud between iOS and Andorid for success in the mobile market. Apple and Google have an interesting dynamic, though; Google makes a competing OS, but provides search and mapping services to Apple as well. One hypothesis is now floating around that maybe Apple’s “thermonuclear war” against Google is not the attempt to destroy Andorid, but to actually eliminate Google services in Apple’s OS. This isn’t entirely invalid, but it still seems largely bunk, especially when looked at through the eyes of Siri.

Apple is looking out for Apple. They want what’s best for their products and design philosophies more than they do to compete. They are willing to commit to vendor lock-in because it benefits them if people become attached to Apple services that will help push future Apple product adoption. iMessage, iCloud, Siri; Apple introduces services for their OS only because they want people to use their OS. Google introduces services because they want people to use their services on as many operating systems as possible.

Could they possibly pull Google services out of iOS entirely? Sure, but it seems unlikely, given that Google is still the number one search engine; pulling Google out of iOS would ding that, but it wouldn’t be a killer blow at all. Siri is not a search engine, after all – it utilizes the data from search engines and services like Yelp and Wolfram Alpha in order to provide users its data. The intelligence that Siri provides from its speech to text service is its benefit, not that it is a search engine.

If anything, Siri won’t be a major factor for a long time; it’s still in the novelty and testing phase with iPhone 4S users; there doesn’t seem to be anything keeping Siri off of earlier devices besides just Apple trying to sell more units of the iPhone 4S. If Apple added more Siri-compatible devices, then maybe it would be a threat, but right now, Siri isn’t a threat to Google’s search empire. In fact, given the 65.3% market share that Google commands, losing every single iOS device would be a hit, but a small one at best.

The rest of the article’s suggestions as to Apple’s “thermonuclear war” seem silly at best. iMessage to replace IM and email services? They use email addresses as a backbone, and are more clearly a replacement for text messaging services, not email. They provide the benefits of instant messaging in many ways, but it seems more like an MMS replacement than that. Apple replacing Google Maps eventually seems possible, especially if they bought mapping services; after all, Apple’s been implementing their own wirleess location services, supplanting Skyhook.

Apple is trying to compete with Android, and they want to win, I’m sure. But remember – Google is perfectly willing to both work with and against Apple, and I doubt that especially a post-Jobs Apple would be willing to ditch the biggest search engine on the planet just because of what ultimately amounted to bluster from a leader who was hardly known for his restraint. It was why Steve Jobs made Apple a success. But I doubt that one blustery quote is entirely guiding Apple against their biggest mobile OS competitor. They’re smarter than that.

The Hills Are Greener: Let’s Talk iPhone. And Android Too.

The Hills Are Greener: Let’s Talk iPhone. And Android Too.

Oct 10, 2011

While the “Let’s Talk iPhone” event and iPhone 4S announcement pale in comparison now to the news that Steve Jobs died this week, the release of the iPhone 4S is still news that needs to be analyzed along with the impact that it has on the future of Android phones.

While Apple hasn’t necessarily competed directly with Android in terms of hardware features, it is interesting to note that the iPhone 4S’ selling point is primarily that it’s the most powerful iPhone; it has a dual-core A5 chip and a better camera. Now, in terms of pure resolution it is on par with other new Android phones, particularly the Galaxy S II, which also has an 8 MP sensor and 1080p video recording. The camera sensor on the iPhone 4S may be more advanced than the Galaxy S II’s, but when terms like “backlit CMOS sensor” have to be used as qualifiers to determine that their camera is better, it seems as if Apple’s losing the war on proving the iPhone 4S is actually more advanced.

Of course, a lot of the disappointment is thanks to the Apple hype cycle and rumor scene. Many rumors of a brand new iPhone 5 swirled about, and people seemed to be disappointed when nothing of the sort was revealed. The performance of the Apple executives is impressive in retrospect considering the heavy hearts of those who likely knew of Steve Jobs’ condition. The rehashing of iOS 5 features seemed like an attempt to stall for time, or to remind people of what they were getting; instead, it just seemed like delaying the inevitable, a phone that was only a minor increase. While many of the rumors turned out to be straight-up lies invented by sites that troll for pageviews, it is Apple die-hards’ fault for taking them hook, line, and sinker. An incremental update seemed more likely than a brand new phone after a massive redesign just a year earlier, similar to the iPhone 3GS. Of course, Apple still needed one big feature to sell the 4S besides more impressive hardware.

That feature appears to be Siri. It will be interesting to see how Siri works for iOS users. Remember that Google has voice actions and speech to text recognition enabled across the platform; while Siri appears to be something more advanced, the idea is not necessarily new. The question as to Siri’s effectiveness will always be the quality of the voice recognition; sometimes Google’s voice recognition comes up with errors. Apple’s demonstrations never show any errors or what would happen if Siri doesn’t recognize speech properly; I doubt that Siri has a 100% recognition rate. This has been the struggle of adoption of voice recognition services; Apple’s Voice Control currently in iOS doesn’t have a great track record for accurate voice detection. In fact, I forgot that it even existed for a very long time! Apple will have to push Siri more for it to be useful.

The question is also, if the iPhone 4S has the same 512 MB of RAM as the iPhone 4, and if Siri has existed as a standalone app before, is it really all that necessary for Siri to exist on the iPhone 4S only? It reeks of an attempt to justify the 4S’ existece.

While Steve Jobs’ death lead to the delay of the Ice Cream Sandwich reveal this week, the time may be right in the near future for Google to strike while the iron is hot, and reveal their new Nexus phone with the new Ice Cream Sandwich user experience. iOS is still strong, but the reveal of the iPhone 4S did not necessarily light the world on fire (though that hasn’t stopped preorders from coming in large numbers, though this may be from users who have ready upgrades anyway), so Android has a real chance here to win over some users potentially disillusioned after that announcement. At worst, it’s a chance to show that Android phones can exist ahead of the curve that Apple is trying to set.