Voice control has grown on me, but it's still uncomfortable

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| June 8, 2014


It’s 2011. The iPhone 4S was just released, and as an employee of Sprint I can tell you that we were both nervous and excited for this unfamiliar (but famous) platform to finally be available to us. Although Sprint would sell both the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S, the 4S was of particular interest to us as it featured the iconic Siri. Siri, at the time, was the only “advanced” voice control system that any phone had to offer. You could set your alarm, send texts, check the weather, and perform web searches using Siri. You could even ask her to marry you or tell you a joke, and she would. Siri was the beginning of a strange new relationship between user and smartphone.


Fast forward to today. Voice control is still a work in progress, but now we have more than just Siri. Now we have Google Now, Siri, and Cortana, not to mention Moto X’s own Touchless Controls. All three have come a long way since 2011 in the sense that we can do a lot more with them, as well as get more accurate results. Still, despite these advancements we’ve made, I can’t help but to feel that voice control is still a very awkward feature to work with - especially in public.


I have a Moto X, which at first I was unamused with because of the Touchless Controls. After using the phone and the controls myself, though, I found that I thought the whole concept was actually rather amusing and helpful. When I’m alone, I have no problems talking to my phone and asking it questions almost like I would any other person. In public, however, you would not see this happening. The reason? I like to keep my business private, even if it’s not something that necessarily has to be kept private.


It’s probably the same reason I prefer text messaging over phone calls in public. I want to be able to say what I want without anybody around me knowing what I’m talking about. It could be as simple as asking somebody if they want to get lunch later; if it’s something I can say in a text message, I usually take that route first.


Aside from a privacy issue, I also think that certain voice control prompts might be obnoxious or annoying to ask in public, especially if you’re not even asking another person. It’s understandable if you’re asking another person, they can’t read your mind. You can’t type your query into them. But your phone? It might take a couple of more seconds, but nobody else really needs to know that I’m looking for restaurants in the area, what the score of the baseball game was last night, or whether former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher really helped invent soft-serve ice cream or not (she didn’t, by the way). Is it really bothering anybody? No, not really. If somebody truly gets upset about asking one or two questions out loud to seemingly nothing then they probably have some deeper issues to deal with, but all in all it’s still an awkward (public) concept in my opinion.


I do like the idea of voice control, don’t get me wrong. It’s certainly helpful in cases where you need to communicate using your phone but can’t use your hands. And maybe it’s only awkward right now because it’s not something I’m used to - it is still a fairly new concept. Or maybe it will never be completely awkward-free, kind of like how just because text messaging is a private activity, it can be awkward hanging out with somebody who is constantly texting somebody else throughout the day. Perhaps as voice controls gain popularity, the whole concept won’t be as awkward anymore.


Readers, what’s your take on voice control right now? Are you a fan of it, or do you prefer to just do everything manually? Let us know in the comments below!