3 Voice Activated Apps for iPhone

| Free on iTunes

So, is it iPhone 5 or iPhone 4s?

My money is on the latter. The current iPhone is just starting to get into its stride after a shaky start. I believe this design has a lot going for it. It’s a great size, looks better than any phone currently on the market (in my never so humble opinion), it’s fast, and extremely useable. I believe that Apple will upgrade some of the specs - install an A5 processor, update the camera, maybe offer a 64GB model, maybe even enlarge the screen by reducing the bezel. All these things are incremental updates, however, not a complete redesign, and that is why I don’t think we’ll see an iPhone 5 this Fall, but rather an iPhone 4s.

It’s all good whatever we get, because the real game changer will be iOS 5. That new OS version will make the current iPhone 4 sing, and the future iPhone 4s sing, dance, and juggle all while whipping up a batch of light and fluffy blueberry pancakes.

My friend, Geoff, and I have a bet about which feature will appear in iPhone 5. The one feature he is most adamant about is voice control. Ever since he heard that Apple and Nuance, makers of the amazingly accurate Dragon speech-to-text software, were talking, Geoff’s been excited and curious about how Apple and Nuance will pull off voice control on the iPhone. I suppose that if the speech recognition engine is built in then Apple and Nuance could do some pretty interesting things.

I will admit, the thought of telling my iPhone to, “Play some Robert Palmer,” or, “define ‘intestable’,” or, “ call Pizaria Valdeano” is something I’ve always thought would be fun, but, unless the speech recognition is stellar and able to understand commands even when the user’s voice changes, and can understand normal speech patterns and phrases even in a noisy environment, then I don’t think it’ll be anything more than niche feature and a gimmick.

I’ve been wrong before, of course. I declared the iPod a doomed species, but it turned out that its DNA had just the right mutations to allow it to survive while other similar devices died out. Maybe Geoff is right about this.

Talking to your phone to get it to do things is nothing new. The capability has been around for years, if you’re are just talking about dialing, and it has met with varying degrees of success. But, apparently, it’s not a “must-have” feature, else every phone would have it. Android does sport some pretty advanced voice activated features, but I never see any of my Android using friends using them. Perhaps, like so many other items that others offers, but never really seem to take off, Apple just needs to put its own spin on it, then it’ll be as if it hadn’t existed before Apple’s version.

Even in Apple’s iOS world using your voice to get work done has been around for a while. Dragon Dictation has been available for about two years now and it is spooky how accurate the app is. Dragon also makes a search app that works very well.

And, of course, there’s Siri, the free voice activated assistant that Apple now owns. With Siri, the iPhone comes reasonably close to the voice activated features the Android platform offers. You have to fire up the app, and…, wait a minute! Maybe my pal, Geoff is right after all. If Apple is, indeed, talking to Nuance then there would be no doubt that JobsCo is looking to make the iPhone a lot more personal, and functional. The question is whether Apple will do it in iOS 5. We’ll just have to wait and see.

While we’re waiting we can enjoy a new free version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary that uses Nunace’s Dragon Speech Recognition software so that you can say what you want defined instead of typing in your query. As with with Dragon Dictation, I was impressed with the dictionary’s ability of understand me, even with music playing loudly in the background.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

The dictionary is from Merriam-Webster, likely the most recognized English language reference on the planet, so you know the reference will be good, and the app doesn’t disappoint. Queried words produce a list of meanings along with a list of synonyms and antonyms, as well as usage examples and audio pronunciation.

What it doesn’t give you, however, is a list of homonyms for audio initiated searches. For instance, if I ask for the meaning of , “where” it should let me decide if I mean ‘where,’  ‘wear,’ or ‘ware.’

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

What would be really cool is if you could give it examples. I could, for instance, say, “Define ‘where’ as in ‘“Where, the heck, am I?”

That may be asking a bit much of a free app, even one that’s ad supported, but there’s no harm in wishful thinking. What I don’t have to wish for in this app is a kick-ass cross reference. If a word appears on the screen, in the definition, in the example, even in the word description (whether it’s a verb, noun, or so on), just touch it and you are given the meaning. Not just key words, any word. That’s pretty cool.

I think you’ll find the Merriam-Webster Dictionary to be one of your most used free apps, whether you talk to it or not.

Another dictionary that uses voice search is from Dictionary.com. Dictionary & Thesaurus - Free has been on my iPhone for a very long time, though I’ve seldom used the voice-search feature. Maybe I’m a bit self-conscious of others knowing which words I have to look up. I shouldn’t be, I know. English provides so many different options for expressing yourselves, and I want to make sure that what I say is accurate.


Dictionary & Thesaurus will likely have the word I’m groping for, it offers close to a million words with definitions, all without internet access. It also offers a healthy dollop of synonyms in the thesaurus. There’s alternate spelling suggestions, examples, and (my favorite) non-standard word usage. And it’s intricately cross-referenced as well. Good stuff.


Like the Merriam-Webster Dictinary, Dictionary & Thesaurus is ad supported, but the ads are easy to ignore.

I actually keep 3 dictionaries on my iPhone and have had occasion when one or two could not provide the meaning I was looking for. Dictionary & Thesaurus is one that I will keep, and one you should load as well.

Any discussion of voice apps on the iPhone must include apps that translate spoken words in one language to spoken words in another language. If we are talking about the iPhone, and we are, then we must include Google Translate.

Google Translate

Google Translate in action

If there’s any app that comes close to providing on-the-fly voice translate Google Translate is it. You say what you want the other person to understand, and within seconds the app is saying what you’ve said, but in a language of your choice. Now, anyone can parle français, sprechen ze Deutsch, or hangug mallo (speak Korean).

Once again, the accuracy of translating what your said into another language is very scary. I had a Korean friend of mine validate the translation, and she was impressed with the accuracy.

The only thing I wish is that it would take my spoken works and immediately speak the translation. As it is, I have to tap the “speak” button to get the app to say what it translated.

It’s a minor quibble over a free app that does amazing things. If you travel or just want to be polite to visiting foreigners, you can’t go wrong with Google Translate.

Ok, that’s a wrap for this week. More voice activated freebies below with direct links.

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> The dictionary is from Merriam-Webster, likely the most recognized English language reference on the planet

Well, if you define “the planet” to be that area covered by the United States of America, then maybe, yes.

However, as a Brit (did you know - /we/ invented English first?), I would have thought that the Oxford English Dictionary would have carried off the title of “most recognised”.  Maybe that just depends on where you stand (literally!) on the difference between “English” and “American English”...  grin

Vern Seward


I did say “likely,” which means probably, but not definitely so.

The nice thing about English is that it has nuances that can tilt a sentence any way you want. Whereas you chose not to allow the dollop of doubt “likely” introduced, I bank upon it.

So, while the Oxford English Dictionary may be the standard reference for British English, I still hold that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is likely a more recognized English language reference.

And it is British English and American English. grin


OH SNAP!!! He told you Gary!


you should checkout DriveSafe.ly on the app store for voice driven email, facebook, etc. Although Apple doesn’t allow access to text messages on the iPhone, you can get GMail text messages.

Voice Control is pretty good

I’m not sure how many people really try it, but the voice control feature built in to the iphone and ipod touch is pretty good. You don’t have to swipe/unlock to play a song or call a person. In my experience it’s always worked correctly, and it only get’s troublesome if I ask it to call Ashley and have 3 different Ashley’s in my contacts


I think voice activation would be great but I also think something needs to be said about the possibility of seeing ShapeWriter as an input device. I downloaded it a while back and it is still my go-to text writer on my 3g iPhone. You can’t get it anymore on the app store and I had wondered why until I saw that Nuance had purchased it.

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