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iPhone 101: Using Voice Control

While we wait for iOS 5 to deliver cool new features, here's a look at Voice Control, a feature introduced with the iPhone 3GS model. There are three types of Voice Control commands: phone, music and other. Here's how to use each.

Launching Voice Control

Of course, you can't use Voice Control until you get it running. You can either hold the Home Button down for about two seconds, or do the same with the middle button on your supplied Apple earbuds. You'll hear a beep and the iPhone's screen will display "Voice Control" with a blue background. Now, let's issue some commands.

Phone commands

Your iPhone understands "call" and "dial." To tell your iPhone to call a contact, say "call" (or "dial") plus the contact's name. For example, saying "Call Janie Smith" will launch the phone app and call Janie's number. If a contact has several numbers (work and home, for example), you can specify which one you want. "Call Janie Smith home" will call Janie's home number.

Calling a number that's not in your contacts list is just as easy. Simply say, "call" plus the number.

Music commands

Voice Control supports a nice list of music commands, from starting and stopping a song to asking about the artist. Here's how to get started.

You can say "play" or "play music" to get the music going. If you've got a song paused when you issue the play command, it will resume. If the iPod app isn't running, it will start at the very first song in your library.

Of course, you can get specific. Voice Control also understands "play playlist [name of playlist]," "play album [name of album]" and "play artist [name of artist]." For example, saying "Play album Dark Side of the Moon" will start the first track of that album, while "Play artist Pink Floyd" will start at the first track of the first album in your Pink Floyd collection (you have one, right?).

While you're at it, create a Genius playlist. While a song you dig is playing, tell Voice Control "Genius play more like this" or "Genius play more songs like this" or simply "play more like this" and it'll create a Genius playlist for you on the spot.

Simple navigation is also possible. Your iPhone understands "pause," "pause music," "next song," "previous song" and "shuffle."

Finally, you can ask your iPhone four questions about the track being played. Specifically, "what's playing," "what song is this," "who sings this song" or "who is this song by."

Miscellaneous commands

Here are a few other commands that don't fit into the previous categories.

"What is the time" or "what time is it." For most people it's quicker to tap the Home Button once and look at the time, but this command will benefit visually impaired users.

"Cancel" and "stop" exit Voice Control.

You can correct a mistake (and there will be plenty. More on that in a minute) by saying, "no," "not that," "nope," "not that one" or "wrong." Write those down now.

Finally, saying "FaceTime" supposedly initiates a FaceTime call. Which brings me to the bad news.

Voice Control works in the way that temporary tattoos look like real tattoos. At first it's passable but upon closer inspection, you see that it's not the real thing (my attempts at initiating a FaceTime call launched a Genesis album). Placing calls was the most reliable function, while the phone had trouble understanding some musical artist's names and was downright befuddled at other times.

That being said, I have friends who swear by it, so perhaps I've got poor diction. Give it a try yourself using the commands listed above, and dream of the day that Siri purchase actually pays off.

Thanks to reader Walt whose email inspired this post!

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