A huge part of the mobile experience is still extremely subpar. No one has created a seamless handsfree experience. I briefly blogged about this 2.5 years ago, and I still feel like there is tons of room for improvement. I don’t blame the headset companies, as my Plantronics (and for many others Jawbone) headset works great… as a headset for phone calls. But using it is not easy. Voice dialing (calling a contact using voice recognition) is a very basic start. The iPhone has Voice Control, which is little more than voice dialing plus basic iPod controls. Android has the best solution right now, Voice Actions, which seems very promising. Yet it doesn’t work consistently with a bluetooth headset, and the commands themselves are too robotic for most users. There are also some solid apps in the space. Nuance’s Dragon voice to text is great. Siri (which Apple purchased 1.5 years ago) has a good amount of NLP (also uses Nuance) and allows for a variety of different commands. Vlingo, Google, and countless others have apps too. But it isn’t effective unless it’s integrated at the OS level and works with handsfree devices.
The obvious use case (especially in CA and other states where there are specific laws) is controlling the phone while driving. Some cars have tried solving this, but none (that I’ve tried) have done it well. But handsfree use cases can be more common- anywhere from multitasking to video chat would be improved by some sort of integrated headset. Wired headsets are obviously not easy to use (I feel like I’m always untangling mine). And wired headsets only work on a single device- bluetooth would allow for switching between iPhone/iPad/etc. where appropriate. Apple previously tried making a bluetooth headset (see here) but apparently gave up, I’m guessing due to technical limitations and lack of polish. The bluetooth spec has improved significantly, allowing for better quality and lower power consumption. A typical headset now can go days/weeks before a charge with decent use. My ultimate wish is that the headset would be able to charge directly from the phone via a mini charging connection or induction-based charger.
But the software integration is the most important – the headset and phone need to understand a variety of commands and output results using display and more importantly voice. Something like “look up directions to Mitchell’s Ice Cream” should return a map and read out the list of turns. ”Schedule phone call with Mom for tomorrow at 3 pm” should read back, create a calendar item, and send an invite. The harder but equally important one command is “reserve a table for tomorrow at 7 pm at Aziza for 4 people,” which should use the OpenTable app, and read back available reservation openings and confirm. And the software should somehow know how to differentiate and use the appropriate device, whether an iPhone on the road, or the Apple TV at home.
My prediction (dream?) is this will be solved in the next major iOS (5.x) release, and that Apple will release a headset at the same time.