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The new iPhone 3G|s| – Voice commands rock!

By July 1, 2009websites

Picture 3 I've had my new iPhone for a few days now, and so I thought I'd share my observations.  Apple touts this phone as having several new features, but some of those are simply part of the 3.0 OS upgrade (which is available to anyone with an iPhone).  The unique features of the new iPhone are: (1) faster processor, (2) directional compass for better GPS functionality (3) video and better camera, and (4) voice commands.

Most reviewers have focused on the first three features. I agree that the obvious benefits of this new phone are faster operation, and better GPS function.  The improved camera is nice, and the addition of video is good too.  But, for me, the  best new feature is the voice command function.  Most reviewers have treated this like a 'so-so' thing.  They complain that it doesn't work very well, but for the most part they think it's nice. Not great, but okay.

Voice commands are great!
I think that the voice command feature is the killer upgrade feature.  First, I have to confess I have been using speech recognition software (MacSpeech Dictate) for the past few months.  So I'm used to the idea that you have to learn how to use speech recognition software.  Once you learn it how to use it properly then you start to notice some serious productivity improvements.  Most people aren't willing to take the time to learn this kind of thing.  If the software doesn't interpret their command properly, they blame the software.  It never occurs to them that they might need to learn how to enunciate better.  I'll bet not too many TV newscasters would have this problem.

The headset matters
So, back to the iPhone. Here's the deal: if you want to fully appreciate the power of the voice command feature get a set of headphones with a controller built in.  I have the $79 Apple headset and I can't say enough good things about them.  Obviously, they're built to work with the iPhone.  On the old iPhone the volume controls couldn't be used to change the volume; you had to physically change it on the iPhone itself.  The new iPhone allows you to control volume from the Apple headset.  Bing!

The Apple headset also allows you to initiate the voice command prompt.  Simply hold the middle button down until you are prompted.  Then speak the command that you want executed.  After you issue the command you'll get a voice readback on what the software believes you said.  If it makes a mistake immediately press the middle button again and it will cancel the mistaken command.

Mistakes are okay
At first you'll make mistakes.  But don't give up.  Keep practicing and you'll quickly learn how to use the voice commands to jump quickly to the task you want to perform.  For now, those tasks are limited to phone calling and iPhone operation.  But that's still a lot.  The original raison d'être n for this device was to combine a phone with an iPod.

So here are things you can say: 

  • "Call [name of person]"
  • "Dial [phone number that you say, slowly] 
  • "Play music" 
  • "Play songs by [name of artist, spoken clearly and carefully] 
  • "What is this song?" 

If you want to know what commands are available just invoke the Voice Command and look at the words scrolling by on the screen.  These are your options.  You won't have long to look before the Voice Command disappears.  But the point is that you can learn by looking as you first begin to use it. Eventually, you will learn how to use this tool to call your frequently dialed contacts.  When that happens you'll find that you are able to operate the phone without taking it out of your pocket (or your purse).

Worth learning
I've spent time learning how to operate the voice command and learning its idiosyncrasies.  As a result I have a high accuracy rate with it.  And it makes my life a lot simpler.  Dialing people while I'm driving used to be a pain in the ass (and dangerous).  Now it's dead simple.  And if I want to hear a song or activate my iPod I can do that quickly too.  You can do this too.  All you need to do is: (1) get the $79 Apple headset, and (2) be patient and learn to use the command function effectively.

If you aren't interested I understand.  But if you are tempted to take advantage of this new feature then I encourage you to make a bit of an effort. I predict that Apple will add more functionality to the voice command in the future.  I certainly hope so!


I should have made it clear that you don't need to have the Apple headset, or any headset, to use the Voice Command function.  Just hold down the home button until the Voice Command prompt appears.  That's it!  

The advantage of the headset becomes obvious once you've used it a few times.  Before I got the new phone here's what would happen if wanted to make a call.  

  1. Take phone out of pocket
  2. Swipe to turn on 
  3. Navigate to phone, and then to contacts within phone 
  4. Slide finger carefully along right side to zero in on the contact I want to call 
  5. Tap the contact's name 
  6. Locate the best phone # to call for that contact 
  7. Tap the desired phone # 

  Now, I do this if the phone is in my pocket and I have the headset in my ear

  1. Hold down the middle button (equivalent to the 'Home button') until Voice Command announces 
  2. Say "call John Appleseed [short pause] mobile'
  3. Wait for confirming announcement, which if correct means I just wait for the phone to start ringing. 

If you don't a headset you still have to perform the first two actions of the old sequence.  That takes a bit of time, but it's not too bad.  But, trust me, once you get used to being able to use the Apple headphones you'll find life suddenly becoming A LOT easier. 

    Update #2:

    Here's a good article about using Voice Commands that lists most of the available commands and how to use them.

    Update #3:

    My friend Rick Klau left a comment to this post pointing out that the new iPhone comes with headphones that have a remote control that allows the voice command to work as I described with the $79 headsets. I didn't even check the headset that came with my iPhone because I had the better ones.  I still recommend those, but obviously you can use the voice command function without having to buy those separately.  Good job Apple!

    P.S. If you're a practicing lawyer, check out this Law Practice Assessment . After answering a few questions, you'll get detailed recommendations for improving five key areas of your practice.


    • I’m thrilled about finally having cut and paste capabilities, as well as being able to send and receive multimedia texts, but I have to say that for those of us in the legal profession with many contacts (I personally have a couple thousand business contacts I’ve built up over the last few years) the phone is still incredibly slow.

    • Conrad Yunker says:

      Voice commands are a big step forward for the iPhone, but the earphone-cord tangle tango every time I want the convenience of not dialing by hand seems counter-productive. Will voice commands work with a good Bluetooth headset, such as the Jawbone?

    • Rick Klau says:

      Ernie – you’re now 2/2. I bought the Kindle on your recommendation and loved it, and now have finally joined the iPhone fanboy community. (Can you believe it took me this long?!)

      After reading this, I started trying to figure out how to convince Robin that I needed to spend more $$ to buy the upgraded headphones to take advantage of the voice command… only to find out that the headset included with the phone has the remote functions. Had no idea!

      Thanks for writing this up. Loving the phone, and hopefully I’ll have some hacks to share w/you before long. 🙂

    • Grace Suarez says:

      Do I have to have the Apple headset? Is there a way to use Voice Commands without a headset?

    • Ernie says:

      Hey Jim:

      The new version of iPhone OS (3.01) is supposed to provide support for bluetooth voice command. I’m not sure how it will work if you have to hold down a button, but I’m sure it will work well on some headsets and not well on others. I hope yours is among the favored.

      I don’t use the iPhone for dictation. I liked Jott, but I found I didn’t use it as much as I thought I would. I have too many places to create notes as it is.

    • Jim Reed says:


      Thanks for the great tips. I have been using Voice Command without the headset and loving it but I understand the benefits of the headset. I just hate those damn tangled cords so I have been holding out for a blue tooth headset…Don’t know how long I will have to wait…..

      A related question: Are you using your iPhone for dictation and if so, what app are you using– Jott? I want to adopt an iPhone dictation strategy but I am not sure where to start…..

      Thanks, Jim_________________________________________James B. Reed, Esq.Personal Injury & Malpractice AttorneyZiff Law Firm, LLP303 William St., Elmira, NY 14901Tel. (607) 733-8866 Fax. (607) 732-6062Toll Free

      Read my N.Y. Injury Blog at

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