Update on the update: The version update to 1.1.1, as described in this article, has been posted to the company's website, along with updated versions of all the associated files.
While youre jammin with your music on the Treo, and your hands have better things to do than tap the screen to skip to the next song, VoicePlayIt earns its keep. The spiffy Palm OS app by Voice-It Technologies lets you tell Pocket Tunes what to do. Literally.
Next Track, you say, and pTunes (so named on the Treos apps screen) dutifully switches the rockabilly off and the smooth jazz on. Or whatever. I reviewed version 1.0 of VoicePlayIt in June 2007, and whined about a few things. Mainly, I complained about its having no quantification on settings sliders for microphone sensitivity and matching accuracy. I also couldnt get the software to respond reliably with my high-end (to say the least) UmeVoice theBoom Quiet headphones.
All that is behind us - or soon to be so. The company is about to ship an update to the program that addresses the issues I raised, as well as adding some more features. Heres a quick look at whats new in version 1.1:
- Added feedback values for all sliders (yay!)
- Added a Listen Off voice command (yay!)
- Added an option for online mobile purchase of license key
- Added Trigger Button option
- Added Quick Start option
In addition, the company says it has improved the integration with pTunes, and I say the program has also improved overall. I tested the previous version on my Treo 680 (which is crimson, I hasten to add), but Ive been using the new 1.1 version on my Treo 700p. You can indeed switch between pTunes and VoicePlayIt more seamlessly. The extra Listen Off command does wonders for excluding extraneous conversations, some of which inevitably confuse the voice recognition software and issue unwanted commands to pTunes.
Before we go any further, in case you havent read or didnt memorize my previous review, let me get you up to speed on what VoicePlayIt does. In the Treo, the native music player is Pocket Tunes. You feed it a list of MP3 music files, and it steps through them, playing music out the Treos internal speaker tinny, and cell-phone-like or through the wired earphone jack to a headset or headphones youve plugged in there. Of course, you can also play music via Bluetooth headsets, but those wont work with VoicePlayIt. Well revisit that issue shortly.
A wired stereo headset delivers music-glorious-music right into your ears. If the phone rings, the headsets microphone will pick up your voice, and your caller gets to yell into both of your ears. Ive reviewed a couple of these, and my pick is the Palm Hybrid. Nice stereo sound, and inexpensive. Thats the unit I used to check out VoicePlayIt for this article, as well as for my review, back in June.
VoicePlayIt works this way: You get Pocket Tunes running Im using version 4.3 and set it to play in the background (see its pulldown menu for Background Prefs). With music coming out of the wired headset, open VoicePlayIt and tap Listen. You previously have to train it to your voice, speaking each of the commands so it knows what to expect. While VoicePlayIt is in its Listen mode, it digitizes anything it hears through the headsets microphone and tries to figure out if its a voice command that matches any of the ones youve recorded. It informs about this process in the top bar of the programs screen. When it recognizes a command, it pipes the info to Pocket Tunes, which executes the command as though youd tapped a button on its own screen.
The result looks a lot like the Treo is multitasking, but it isnt. In fact, it cant. Noel Grover, Voice-It Technologies president, explained that the trick is using Palm OS streams, whatever that is, to send over the commands. Regardless of what the curtain is hiding, it still looks like two programs by two different companies are behaving as one. Sweet.
We use their API and SDK, and we worked with them on this, Noel wrote me in an email. SDK is Geekspeak for Software Development Kit, and API is, well, who cares what that is, it describes how programs cooperate.
Besides the tick marks that I complained about, VoicePlayIt 1.1 adds a Quick Start option and a user selectable Trigger button. These can provide even more seamless integration with Pocket Tunes, but leave them off if you prefer. In use, the options let you fire up VoicePlayIt from the Pocket Tunes screen (or elsewhere, even), without visiting the Treos Home menu screen.
My feeble powers of divination are telling me youre thinking what Im thinking. Namely, wouldnt it be nice if Palm incorporated voice recognition into its OS, especially for the markets that the Centro is aimed at? Noel said the new version of VoicePlayIt has attracted Palms attention, and his company is willing to license the technology, but so far, no sale. Quote:
Palm has been reluctant to include the SDK for VoiceLib for command and control for the last four years. This would enable all PalmOS developers to voice enable their applications. It's a simple API, but they do not want to pay for it.
Still, wouldnt it be nice if all the programs played nice together, and even nicer if the new models aimed at the young had some snazzy new features built in that our old-codger Treos cant boast. It is possible, though with third-party software, to entirely control the Treo itself with voice commands, and since the Centro runs on the same OS, it would probably work there too. Imagine speaking "Open
pTunes", or "Web: weather," or "Text: 555-555-5555 Content: How you doin" and then having the Treo or Centro do your bidding. Yeah, I know about
Pinger. Voice-It Technologies sells VoiceNavIt that controls the Treo (or presumably a Centro) with voice. You basically record a macro, specifying an application to launch and whether you want keystrokes and taps recorded, too. Then assign a voice command to it. I havent checked this one out, yet, but I plan to.
Why not Bluetooth?
Sweet as it is, now, VoicePlayIt still does not work with non-wired headsets, Bluetooth in other words. Heres why.
Me: Is it planned, or even possible, to make this work with pTunes over Bluetooth headsets? And why?
Noel: This is a limitation from Palm. They did not implement the full BT API into the ROM so they and other third party developers cannot get it to work.
Well, now at least it does work with my theBoom headphones. These babies (cans in the audio trade) apply the most glorious noise reduction you could wish for. When I tested them with VoicePlayIts first version, I found the program didnt much like them incoming signal too clean, I figure. With the updated version 1.1, they work. Indeed, they work wonders. A tip: turn the record volume up nearly to max, and turn off background noise filtration. Thats right, off. The signal from theBoom Quiet doesnt have any background noise. You should also uncheck the option if using version 4 or greater of Pocket Tunes.
Where to get it
If you already have VoicePlayIt, the update is free. To get it, use the programs Check for Updates option, which will fire up your Treo (Centro?) browser and download the new version not quite yet at this writing, but when it becomes available. If its not yet online, the update option will say yours is current. Even if its not. You can buy the program here for $19.95. A free 10-day trial is available here, and you can view an introductory video here. But wait! At this writing, those links still pertain to the old version. The new one is imminent, however within a few days, according to Noel.
I spent a frustrating time trying to get any version of VoicePlayIt to run on my Treo 700p, before I identified the problem: mTools by MotionApps, which Ive just
reviewed for TreoCentral. This handy collection of system utilities somehow interferes with the systems streams by which VoicePlayIt communicates with Pocket Tunes. With mTools installed on my 700p, VoicePlayIts Listen mode was mutually exclusive with pTunes music. I uninstalled mTools, and the problem disappeared.
Its great to see new versions of Palm OS programs add features and improve the users experience. VoicePlayIts new version 1.1 does just that, adding the Quick Start option to work much more seamlessly with Pocket Tunes. With a good wired headset, its a solid, robust technology that does its thing reliably. If you want it to honor Bluetooth wireless headsets, talk to Palm. Best of all, the update is free if you already own the program, and you cant beat that for support.
This isnt a review, so there are no ratings, pros, and cons. I previously gave VoicePlayIt three stars overall, but considering version 1.1s new features, and for addressing the shortcomings that I whined about, add one more star to that rating.