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Siri on the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and iPad

Date: 17th October 2011     

Siri is one of the unique features of the recently released iPhone 4S from Apple. It is clearly used as one of the main selling points of the new mobile phone and it is like a personal assistant that you can talk to and give commands or instructions to. For example, you can tell it to schedule a meeting, to make a phone call, create a reminder, and to find local services and businesses. You can also use it to to save typing, such as when emailing, by dictating to your iPhone 4S and have it turn speech into text.

Although Siri is part of iOS 5, it is not available on any other devices that are upgraded to iOS 5. It isn't on the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 or the iPad. It's not that it can't run on other iOS devices because the iPad has the same dual-core processor as the iPhone 4S and is just as powerful, so it's obviously just to make the 4S more attractive to upgraders that like to have the very latest gadget from Apple.

Wouldn't you like Siri on your iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 or iPad and save the cost of an upgrade? You can't have the real thing, of course, but you can get a lot of the same functionality from other apps that are already available. For example, you can place calls and create email messages by speaking into your phone, you can post Twitter and Facebook updates by speaking into your phone, you can turn speech into text that can be inserted in any app, you can search the web and find local businesss and services just by talking into your phone. You don't need an iPhone 4S, you don't need iOS 5 and it won't cost you anything because all these features are free.


Vlingo
Vlingo for iPhone Vlingo is a free app (search for it in the iTunes store) that runs on the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and iPad. It is as close to Siri as you'll get and it is excellent. To use Vlingo you tap a button on the screen to put it into listening mode and then just speak.

It responds to a variety of spoken commands and a good example is the way that you can easily tell it to send an email. For instance, you can say "Email Bob. Subject, our meeting. Message, it was good to see you." It turns the speech into text and it obviously looks for keywords and acts on them. You don't need to do things all in one go and you can simply say "Email Bob." An email form is displayed on the screen and you can tap in the subject field, tap the microphone icon and speak the subject. Tap in the message body, tap the microphone icon again and speak the message text. It's really easy to use and the voice recognition is good.

Other things Vlingo can do include sending SMS text messages, voice dialing, web searching and maps. It's all very similar to Siri. If you enter your Facebook and Twitter login details you can even post updates to your social networking accounts simply by speaking into the phone. It saves having to type using the onscreen keyboard, which is slow and tedious on an iPhone due to its small size.

Vlingi is an excellent app that is free and works well. With iOS 5 and Vlingo on your iPhone 4 you have most of what an iOhone 4S offers.


Dragon Dictation
Vlingo for iPhone Dragon Dictation (search the store to get it) is interesting because it is an iOS version of Dragon Naturally Speaking, which a popular voice recognition app for desktop computers. It's from a company called Nuance and there are several voice apps from the company.

Dragon Dictation is literally just dictation and it just turns speech into text. It does not act on commands in the same way as Siri. It is still very useful though and after dictating to the iPhone or iPad the text is displayed on the screen. You can pull up a menu of icons at the bottom of the screen and these enable you to do various things with the text.

For example, you can then copy it so that you can switch to another app and then paste it in. After setting up Twitter and Facebook, the text can be used to update these social networking services. You can create an email with it or send it as an SMS text message.

No speech to text app is perfect, not even Siri, so occasionally have to correct the odd error, but it saves a lot of typing.


Dragon Go!
Vlingo for iPhone Dragon Go! is not available from the UK store, so it is not one that I have tested, but is available in the US. The reason is that its actions and responses are geared towards US residents. This is also true of Siri and Siri's features are limited outside of the US.

Dragon Go! is similar to Siri in some ways and you can ask it questions like "Directions to Golden Gate Park," and "What's the weather like today?" It understands a wide range of questions and it can supply the answers you need.

It is like having a voice search facility for the web and it uses voice recognition to turns whatever question you ask into screens of results. You can find local businesses, reviews of products and services, directions to places, local film times, and all the other stuff you search for on the web, just by speaking into your iPhone or iPad.

As with the other voice apps, it is free of charge, so go ahead and download it if you are in the US and want a voice controlled personal assistant.


Google
Vlingo for iPhone Download and install the Google app on your iOS device and it provides access to all of Google's online services. The main one of course, is searching the web and right next to the search box is a microphone icon. You just need to tap this and speak your web search query into the phone. Google turns the speech into text, inserts it in the search box and goes and gets the results.

You can search for anything using Google and if you want to know the nearest pizza take-away or restaurant then just say "Pizza places." The results are the same as using Google on a desktop computer and there are text links to the nearest pizza places, a Google map with pizza places pinned on it and so on.

Google app is good for general web searches, for finding local services and for finding links to websites, but it doesn't directly give directions. If you say a place name though, it then displays a map with the location and a Get Directions button. One tap and you're into Google maps and can enter the start location to get driving directions.


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