ALOHA FROM JENNIE: If you are using an Apple or Android system tablet or smartphone, you have access to both virtual assistant and dictation functions which enables you to accomplish much by simply using voice commands.
A senior for whom I set up an Apple iPad seemed enchanted with Siri, her virtual assistant, because she wasn’t comfortable tap typing on the tiny flat glass keyboard. A few weeks later, when I asked how Siri was coming along, the senior said that she and Siri were no longer on speaking terms because she had asked Siri for the location of a nearby hair salon, specifying the shop by name.
Siri as usual showed on the screen her translation of the senior’s request, and then Siri’s response. In this case, Siri’s translation indicated that the senior mentioned the swear phrase, F*** Y**, and Siri’s response was ‘there’s no need for profanity’. The senior was mortified because while the shop’s name was Hawaiian, it was not even close in pronunciation to those ‘bad words’.
I hastily explained that Siri was only a virtual interface to a software program, and that no one at Apple was keeping a blacklist of profane seniors. However, I have the feeling that our senior’s relationship with Siri remains chilly – the trust has been broken.
To try and minimize misunderstandings, Siri likes her requests structured in a certain way, though this may become less necessary as virtual assistant technology evolves. As shown on the screen shot above, you can instruct Siri to compose emails and texts (and send them), audio call or ‘Facetime video’ call someone in your device address book, set up reminders and calendar appointments, launch applications, and much more. Ideally, you’d use the short but detailed commands shown in the screenshot and be consistent in the way that you structure your requests.
Personally, I use the Apple dictation feature more than the virtual assistant. For those of you accustomed to a physical keyboard like those of Palm Treos and RIM Blackberries, dictation to avoid virtual keyboarding may be the solution.
Note, however, that dictation is transcribed on third party servers (e.g. Apple), not your local device, so a wi-fi or 3G data connection is necessary (along with a somewhat quiet speaking environment). Also, for those of you in professions which need to be HIPPA compliant (such as attorneys or physicians), be sensitive to any private content that you are flowing through the third party servers for transcription.
Within those parameters, dictation has worked well in my experience. When you are within a document, such as a notepad, email or text body, and you see a microphone (on the left of your virtual Apple iOS keyboard's space bar), you can tap that microphone and dictate rather than type. Speak clearly, ideally in less than 30-second bursts, and identify punctuation (‘question mark’) and symbols (‘dollar sign’) when desired, e.g. saying ‘Please call me back period’ will translate to ‘Please call me back.'
Tap the microphone again when you end the dictation burst, and view the transcription output on your screen. Auto-correct and manual correction are available, either as you go along, or you might prefer to wait till the end of the document and proof in its entirety.
Clearly, for those seniors with arthritic fingers, the assistant and dictation features may be good alternatives to the keyboard. In addition, both Apple and Android operating systems have “Accessibility” features for individuals with low vision. For example, Apple’s “Voice Over” and Android’s “Talk Back” systems will describe out loud to visually impaired individuals what is currently shown on their device’s screen.
If you enable these accessibility features, then any time when you tap a screen icon, the system will speak up and describe what you’ve just selected. You can also have email, web page contents and books read to you. Apple’s accessibility features are described in the link here. Do any of you have virtual assistant or dictation experiences to share?
Addendum: Lately, the term 'virtual assistant' has grown in meaning to include the labor outsourcing personnel that can be hired as contractors, such as admin assistants or software programmers based in India. Those types of assistants are not covered in this article.