I use my phone a lot. I’ve had a smartphone since the Palm Treo 600, and have grown more and more dependent on my mobile device since then. I use it for phone calls, texting, google maps, reading news/rss feeds, MLB gameday audio, yelp restaurant reviews, and much more. As the devices became more powerful, I found myself using it more and more often – even while driving. Instead of looking up the location of a restaurant ahead of time, I’d just wait until I was closeby, and out comes the blackberry. Instead of calling folks and telling them that I was running late, I’d text them. Most of the time, I’d think nothing of it. But then the LA-train texting accident happened (among other texting-related accidents), and I realized exactly how dangerous it was.
Yet, even then, it still proved very difficult for me to stop the occasional driving text or lookup. However, California recently passed a measure that makes it illegal to text while driving (a very, very smart law). Enter voice-enabled mobile apps. I’ve downloaded Vlingo, Tellme, Yahoo oneSearch, and Google Mobile, all of which are voice-enabled. Google’s voice recognition only works for Google search queries, so it’s not very useful. Tellme (recently bought by Microsoft) is solid for map lookups. If you’re on the go, instead of typing “Pauline’s Pizza, SF”, you can say it, and it will display the results (which still requires a dangerous glance away from the road) and allow you to easily map it. Tellme also allows for voice-prompted calls.
Vlingo, however, is the best offering. Their voice recognition, while still needing improvement, is impressive (Indian names do not work super well, I’m tempted to give all my friends very common English names in my phone book. Or maybe I cannot pronounce Indian names correctly). The program allows you to call friends, SMS text (accurately), google search, launch applications, and more. It’s great – I can text and drive legally! It would be useful if it would allow searches within Google Maps (my favorite GPS app), but I’m sure that will come soon enough. Vlingo’s technology also powers Yahoo’s oneSearch application, which only allows for lookups – i.e. it’s quite useless (it should at least work with Yahoo Maps).
All the apps could use work in playing back audio results. Vlingo will replay SMS texts before it sends them out (thus avoiding awkward misses in the voice transcribing), but it needs to support playback of queries and location searches to avoid dangerous glances away from the road.
Vlingo has been around for awhile, but they recently upgraded and it’s voice-recognition is now much more usable compared to the rest. Yes, it costs $17 (they have a limited free version) – but that’s nothing compared to the enhanced safety (I rarely need to look at my phone now, it’s all voice-recognition). All the other apps are free, so I highly recommend trying/using at least one of these if you own a car- you never know when you’ll need it. Or you could just avoid using your phone altogether while driving.