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Vlingo adds voice control to older iPhones

Pity the poor iPhone 3G owner who now has to grapple with reality; yes, what was until Friday the world's coolest smartphone is now simply a piece of yesterday's tech, as current as a punchcard and as enduring as a wax cylinder recording on a hot afternoon. No, not really -- the iPhone 3G is just as cool as it was a week ago, and for $99 it's a relative bargain. Still, there's some envy on the wind.

Some of our readers have apparently been so dazzled by Apple's enthusiastic promotion of the new iPhone 3G S that they were fooled into believing that the hardware-linked features of the 3G S (the compass and the voice controls, specifically) would be made available on the 3G with the delivery of the 3.0 software update. They have written to us, irate and frustrated, wanting to know what happened to their promised features. We sympathize, and we want to help.

There is, as it happens, a way to get one of the marquee features of the 3G S -- voice control -- onto your iPhone 3G or original iPhone. The vlingo app, available free in the App Store since December of last year and also available for Blackberry & Windows Mobile, gives you voice command dialing from your address book, map search, Yahoo web searches, Twitter/Facebook updating, and more. The recognition quality is quite good; it's worked as well as Google Voice Search for me in most cases.

Vlingo is quite a bit slower to recognize audio on the 3G than the built-in Voice Control is on the 3G S (unsurprisingly, considering the horsepower boost on the new phone); it also does not allow iTunes control, while Apple's tool does. Despite these drawbacks, it's fun to use and very slick. Update: As Eitan points out in the comments, vlingo's speed is not necessarily limited by the local processing power, since it depends on the remote server for audio analysis.

One of the major points of contention regarding vlingo, and a cause of many negative reviews on the App Store, is that the app does have to do something a little bit touchy in order to enable voice dialing: it asks if it can upload your contact names to vlingo. While this is a necessary step if you want to use voice dialing, and while the company says it does not include phone numbers with that upload nor does it use the information for any purpose other than creating spoken profiles to recognize the names of your contacts when you speak them, there are plenty of users who aren't comfortable with this step. If you're not OK with it, you can still use vlingo without the voice dialing feature; at that point, however, it's not dramatically better than Google's Voice Search.

You can watch a video demo of vlingo in the 2nd half of this post. If you've got other workarounds or third-party apps that help 3G owners level up with their happy 3G S comrades, please let us know.



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iPhone App Review

Pity the poor iPhone 3G owner who now has to grapple with reality; yes, what was until Friday the world's coolest smartphone is now simply...