Putting Voice to Your Text Messages
By Jim Bray
Are you a text messaging guru, with fingers flying on the keypad, managing a missive more quickly than you can voice the same thoughts?
If so, I hate you.
I've only dabbled with text messaging when testing features such as the new Text to Landline service that's the subject of this little rant – and while I may type with blinding speed on a real keyboard, when it comes to navigating the little keypads of cell phones and PDA's I'm about as graceful with my ten thumbs as my two left feet are at handling the Macarena.
Heck the last time I reviewed a PDA, several years ago, I found it really frustrating: I had to stop, fire the thing up, put on my glasses, and surf through it to find what I needed. It was annoying and slowed me down, and since it was more productive to just write down my appointments and contact info onto a piece of paper in a font large enough for me to read without my glasses (then fold the paper and put it in my pocket), that's what I did after my first day on the road with the thing.
On the other hand, I was on a General Motors junket recently during which I had to use a Blackberry extensively and, while I can't see ever wanting to own such a device, I finally made my peace with it once I figured it its quirky little QWERTY and predictive spelling "feature." So maybe there's hope for me yet.
And since personal growth is what life's all about, when a communications service provider offered me a chance to try their new Text to Landline service I agreed without expending a further conscious thought, even though I knew I'd have to type on one of those dinky little keypads again.
So they sent me a Samsung cell phone to use for the test, a model I learned to hate because its battery life was non-existent and its interface really rubbed me the wrong way. On the plus side, it was a Slider phone. I like Sliders because you can open them easily with one hand, as opposed to the "clamshell" type of phone that requires two hands if you don't want to keep picking it up off the ground, and the "bar" type that requires you to keep the keypad locked if you don't want to be sending unwanted calls to your speed dial victims every time a button gets pushed by accident as it flops around in your pocket or purse..
But I digress.
Text to landline lets you type away at your dinky little keypad and send your message to anyone's conventional landline telephone. I can see this being a nifty service for those who may be more eloquent in print than they are verbally. And it is kind of neat, though not something I'd use.
The service is aimed supposedly at business people and teenagers – undoubtedly, in the former case, so evil capitalists can text messages during meetings when they're supposed to be focused on the task at hand, disseminating sweet nothings to wife, kids, significant others (or insignificant sames) who need to be told just how bored you are with the idiot running the meeting and how much better the company would be served if you were in charge.
And, in the second case, so teenagers – who seem to live for texting these days (probably because it has its own language and that means they don't need to learn proper spelling) – can send a text message to the old poots at home, telling them that, while they've been busy empowering themselves their kids have been picked up by the Man and need to be bailed out yet again.
The text-to-landline service is quite simple to use, once you've gotten past the actual composing and entering of the text. You just send the text message from your mobile phone the same way you'd send it normally – but to any landline phone number in the U.S.A. or Canada, even if the person doesn't have texting capabilities. Once the message has been delivered, the system sends you a delivery notification message that makes you bask in the glow of your success.
And if your chosen victim isn't around to answer, text-to-landline will leave the message on the answering service or, if there's no answering machine, it'll try again later.
Or so they say. When I tried leaving a message onto my voice mail at home, the darn service starting prattling along, spewing the incoming message at my inbox before my outgoing message had even finished. All I ended up with on my voice mail was a "Thank you" message instead of the actual message I'd sent. I tried that a couple of times, with the same result.
Other than that, which is a pretty big caveat, the service seems to work quite well.
My big concern going in was how the voice delivering the message would sound. Would it be some metallic, robotic voice like a Doctor Who Dalek or has technology marched along sufficiently to allow for more listenable robotic voices?
I was surprised pleasantly to discover that the voice sounded more human than some humans I know.
On the other hand, the body of the message – at least so far as the provider I was using is concerned – was delivered in the same speaking voice as the message envelope, with very little pause between the preamble and the, well, amble, and that made it hard to tell when the actual message began.
So while the service worked in my test, it appears they still have some work to do to make it smarter.
Copyright 2008 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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