Have you seen "Her"? The movie, which debuted in theaters this winter, is a sci-fi story about a man who falls in love with his smartphone. But not in the way you love your iPhone. The story is set in a futuristic utopia where artificial intelligence has become so advanced that talking to your computer – or phone – isn't much different from chatting with your neighbor. So it's little wonder when protagonist Theodore falls head over heels for an AI entity named Samantha, who resides in a smartphone-like device, and seems to understand him in ways his ex-wife never could. As the story unfolds, Theodore spends most of his time walking through crowded plazas, parks and train stations. But instead of talking to people, he talks to his phone.
No, you can't make friends with your smartphone – not yet, anyway. But talking to your phone isn't just the stuff of science fiction. Most smartphones have a built-in digital assistant that can respond to all kinds of verbal requests and commands. Apple's iPhone has Siri; Android phones have Google Now; and now a new version of the Windows Phone operating system has introduced a digital assistant called Cortana. These programs make it easy to talk to your smartphone, but some people are still shy about issuing voice commands in public. Admittedly, talking to your gadgets can make you feel like a bit of a lunatic at first. But embracing voice commands has actually made me more productive. Here's how.
Dictate emails, text messages and notes
There's no doubt that smartphone keyboards have improved by leaps and bounds since the debut of the original iPhone. Advances in touch-screen technology have made phone displays more sensitive, and smarter keyboard software can pick up on your typing habits to correct typos and predict what you'll say next. Meanwhile, bigger smartphone screens allow for bigger digital keys, which are easier to tap with your fingertips. But there's a better ways to type on your phone: Don't. Instead, dictate your messages verbally.
When I need to send an email or text message on my phone, I tap the microphone icon on my smartphone keyboard and start talking. Modern voice recognition technology is amazingly responsive and accurate, so you can finish your message and hit send in a fraction of the time it would have taken to tap it out with your thumbs. And if there's an error, it's easy to correct it manually before firing off your message. I don't just use voice dictation for emails and messaging. I also use it to quickly jot down notes or add items to my to-do list in the Evernote app. The ease, convenience and speed of dictation means I'm more likely to get those things down right now, before I forget about them.
Of course, some messages are private, and not every work environment will welcome frequent verbal interjections. But if you look for opportunities to talk instead of type, you can spend less time tapping your smartphone screen and more time working.
When you need a specific piece of information, you're used to typing your query into Google. But why type when you can talk? You can ask your iPhone, Android phone or Windows Phone almost anything and get an answer instantly. For example, while writing this article I activated the voice command feature on my Android phone and asked it how Apple's stock was doing today. It verbally responded: "Apple is currently trading at $518.57." Next, I asked my phone "How’s the weather?" and it replied, "Today's forecast for Brooklyn is currently 52 degrees and cloudy." Voice commands are far from the only way to access this information. But they let me find out what I want to know quickly and easily. They also let me multitask, so I can ask for a specific piece of information without dropping everything else I'm doing.
And if I need directions, I first access the voice command screen and state "Navigate to [destination.]" Then I either insert a specific address if I know it, or I simply name a location or business. My phone quickly pulls up turn-by-turn directions, with no typing required. Meanwhile, looking up directions while driving is never advisable, but if you must, issuing a voice command is a much safer way to do it.
Find my phone
Is there a bigger waste of time than searching for your smartphone? As phones get slimmer and more compact, it's easier than ever to misplace them behind a stack of papers or in a jacket pocket. And a missing smartphone can really zap your productivity, especially when you have somewhere to go. But I don't search for my phone anymore – I just talk to it. Uttering "Ok Google Now" activates the voice command function on Moto X smartphone, even when the display is off. When this happens, my phone emits a loud chime, which helps me find it in seconds. Think of it like asking your smartphone “Where are you?” and having it respond.
Unfortunately, this "always-listening," hands-free functionality is available only on a handful of Android smartphones. In addition to Motorola's Moto X, it's also found on the Droid Ultra, Droid Maxx and Droid Mini, though rumors suggest that a similar feature could be coming to other smartphones soon.