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Voice

The emergence of data-only SIM cards: Are voice plans on the decline?

Prepaid data-only SIM cards offer global data connectivity at low prices, undercutting the traditional business model of big telecommunication companies. But consumers win, in the end.

SIM Card

Smartphones, connected wearable devices, and smart gadgets are on the rise. We have seen how Google is making an increased push into wearables, with Android Wear. And while connected devices are not exactly a new technology, smart gadgets are only now starting to see an increased interest, with the so-called internet-of-things.

With these changes in mind, it’s also not surprising how cellular communication has quickly evolved. It started out as simple mobile-calling when cellular phones first gained popularity, which then gave way to text messaging. Now, data-based communication — including email, IP-based mobile messengers, and even video-calling — are dominating the industry. For telecommunication companies, this will amount to a loss of $479 billion until 2020, says analytics firm Ovum.

In fact, data use revenue in the US has surpassed voice, at least in the past 12 months. In the previous four quarters, data revenue reached $90 billion, and this actually breached a 50 percent share among US telcos. This means users are spending more time — and money — connecting through social networking, social messaging apps and other so-called over-the-top (OTT) services. With Facebook’s recent $19 billion acquisition of chat app WhatsApp, the trend is ever-clearer: voice telephony is likely to take a backseat to data-based communications.

We've gone a long way since the old days, haven't we, Mr. Cooper?
We’ve gone a long way since the old days, haven’t we, Mr. Cooper?

Telcos are catching up to the trend. T-Mobile and AT&T, for example, offer data-only plans. While these are mostly meant for mobile WiFi/Mifi routers, these can easily be repurposed for use on smartphones and tablets. However, costs may still be prohibitive, with fixed allocations and overage charges.

Interestingly enough, there are service providers that are rising to address this emerging trend. For instance, some MVNOs and prepaid providers are focusing on data-only or data-first plans. For instance, UK-based Mobi-Data promises data connectivity across 40 countries for a bucket pricing. Data-only plans are offered at a competitive rates, such as the $22 a month 20GB plan (which comes out at about 90 cents per gig).

Using an Android device, one can even convert a purely data-oriented plan for calls and SMS. For one, there are chat apps that are increasingly replacing SMS as the preferred means of texting, such as WhatsApp and Telegram. VoIP apps like Skype and Viber can easily substitute for calls. But since many of these require you to have a mobile number in the first place, then Google Voice is your friend. With SIP calling and Google Voice SMS, you can set-up Android to use a data-only plan for voice calls and SMS (more on this in a future post).

Telcos will need to react to a changing telephony and connectivity landscape. Big companies like Facebook and Google are now starting to consider blanketing the entire globe with airborne access points — drones for Facebook and balloons for Google — that should provide last-mile connectivity even to remote areas, while offering fast Internet access to denser metropolitan areas.

For end-users, this could mean different things, however. Data-oriented plans will be a boon for millennials and users who are more attuned to IP-based communication. However, users who are more used to legacy devices that can only do basic calls and texts might be left out. One thing is for sure: with data-based plans, we can expect richer and more interesting ways to connect, communicate and collaborate.

And if you’re still in doubt as to the emergence of data, do a quick check of your own mobile habits. Do you spend more time talking and texting via traditional voice and SMS, or are you using email, VoIP and chat more and more?

Adobe working on a voice driven app to edit images

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Adobe special effects whiz is working on an app called PixelTone that will edit your photos and images – with voice commands. Adobe in collaboration with the University of Michigan, calls the app ‘A multimodal interface for image editing’. Everything you did with touch is now possible with voice, with PixelTone’s fantastic new capabilities!

You can issue a voice command and PixelTone will immediately obey, sometimes displaying options for fine tuning. It does not require camera specific terminology or Android specific instructions. The app works perfectly well with general English and instructions. Commands like ‘Increase the brightness of this image’ will be accepted and executed smoothly. In addition to image correction, the app provides a number of filters for different looks – like the retro look, night, day, sepia, black and white and other interesting filters. The best part about this app is that users will be able to edit not only the entire snap but will be able to work with a portion of the image to improve, distort, or rework it as desired- a brilliant feature to have in an image editing app.

Users have been limited to creating filters or editing images with apps that are shipped with Apple or with those downloaded from Google’s PlayStore or BlackBerry’s app world. PixelTone is the complete package from Adobe to edit your image in every way possible. Filters, tones, contrast, brightness, color depth and a host of other variations, PixelTone offers fun ways to work with images. And the icing to the cake is voice control operation of this app! The power of sophisticated software, the likes of Photoshop and Illustrator packed into your handheld device, run by voice input! Adobe, take a bow!

Ivee Voice Powered Alarm Clock, Voice Technology is Definetly Getting Better

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I think you’d agree with me that even in today’s technology-driven world that a lot of the voice technology and recognition just flat out sucks. Many voice activated systems are getting better, but are still quite frustrating. For example, until Google last updated their voice quality in Ice Cream Sandwich, trying to search something with your voice instead of typing was very tedious. Now, you may be asking, “what brought this whole subject up?” Well, I’ve simply been playing with a lot of voice technology as of late and have had some interesting experiences with them in the past few days. In anticipation of the Knowledge base getting integrated with the Voice Search functions, I decided to play around with the current voice search functions that were implemented already. After that, I took it upon myself to head on over to Google Play and check out some other voice driven applications like Vlingo and another called iris. That said, with these experiences I have come to the conclusion that people are working very hard to get voice technology at a great level.

All that said, I’ve noticed that a lot of things have improved vastly since I was last using it. My first phone had terrible voice recognition and I had that around a year ago. It’s cool to see how much it’s actually improved and at the same time, it’s quite interesting. As of late, Google seems to have been really interested in the voice technology with their most recent addition to Jelly Bean, Google Now. In case you didn’t know, Google Now is essentially a completely revamped and better Siri.

Anyway, my old phone couldn’t translate voice into textat all. It was a smartphone made by LG (if that says anything) and actually was a pretty good one. That is, aside from the voice quality. On numerous occasions I tried to use speech-to-text to ultimately make my texting a bit faster. The result of that? It turned my English words and translated it into complete nonsense and blubber. It wasn’t in another language either, it was just a rather interesting experience. That said, I really discounted what voice technology had to offer and never played around with it again until I picked up my Motorola Atrix 2. I didn’t even use that extensively until recently.

Improvements:

Since I got my tablet (Transformer Pad TF300T) I have been playing with the Voice Search function on it a lot. Upon using it, I did three tests. One consisted of talking to it up close, the other a bit further and the other way across the room. On each test it performed fantastically well compared to my past experiences. Wow! Voice Technology came a long way since I had last used it. That said, I was encouraged to try some other voice applications on my tablet like Vlingo and iris off of Google Play. I waited a bit to do that though as I wanted to try it out on my phone because as I said, I hadn’t truly used my phone for speech-to-text purposes or voice recognition at all.

To make it short and sweet, I experienced close to the same results as my new tablet. It’s no surprise that my tablet would perform better than my phone since its a newer device with 10x better hardware. Still, I was expecting a huge difference, but there wasn’t a whole lot. The only thing that I noticed a difference with is that my phone couldn’t hear me correctly across the room while my tablet could.

Vlingo works similarly to the Google Search function in which I found that also works very well. The only thing is, it isn’t available for my tablet and only my phone. Using it, I enjoyed some of the features it had that the Google Search function didn’t (at least, until I get Jelly Bean). Vlingo makes sending and replying to text messages very easy. It also understands you very clearly and also inputs grammar into your message very accurately. Essentially Vlingo is another Siri for Android devices. Considering it wasn’t made by a huge corporation with lots of money, I was surprised at how well the quality was.

Ivee Alarm Clock:

Okay, Apps and Voice Recognition inside tablets and smartphones aside, I had decided to broaden my look into voice technologies and actually came across a really cool Alarm Clock. Yeah, it’s no Android or iOS powered alarm clock, but it is simply an alarm clock that functions with voice. It only has a few commands but responds to you extraordinarily well (it’s quite expensive too!). The Ivee Alarm Clock hears you most of the time, when you’re close to it that is. The point of it isn’t the voice range though, its more of the fact that it hears your voice clearly and follows the instructions that you gave it upon answering a few of Ivee’s questions.

With a simple “Hello Ivee,” the alarm clock responds to you with a couple of unique random lines. With the voice technology simple commands like “Set time to 0;00” will allow you to edit the clock without having to touch a single button. Amazing isn’t it? I’m sure a lot of you have seen some similar things like this, but I figured I would personally share my experiences with voice technology.

I’ve never had any good experiences with voice technology until now (aside from VoIP). The Ivee clock is probably one of the more really cool things that I have seen. I sort of thought that the whole voice activated technology wasn’t hugely important in today’s world due to how lacking my experiences with numerous devices and apps have been. As I said, recently I have been finding more and more that it has improved since I last used it, which was really about a year ago when I had my older phone. Either I was under a rock at the time (which, I probably was) or voice technology was just downright crappy.

Conclusion:

This was really meant to be a sort of discussion topic if anyone finds interest in it. With examples of the Ivee Alarm Clock I’ve come to realize that the Voice Technology is definitely getting better. Now, the real question is, when will it be good enough to rely on for our text messages, making correct phone calls, setting reminders and etc? From my experience(s), I can tell we’re headed there but I definitely do not think were quite there just yet. Relying on voice technology can be difficult due to its lack of accuracy in some areas.

Now, how do I know it’s getting there? Have you seen our review on the Obi202 that will allow you to make free phone calls and completely cut out your phone bill? It’s essentially a VoIP adapter/router that makes crisp and clear calls unlike some other devices that are out there. Standard Skype calls and sometimes even Google Voice is tedious, but the Obi202 is a technology that at its core was built to have crisp and clear calls. That’s an example of voice technology improving very heavily.

Another example would be the Google Now and the rise of numerous different applications on both Google Play and iOS that are voice driven. Some apps are a downright piece of crap while others, like Vlingo, are stunningly accurate and do as you want them too. Honestly, if we can get some people that would dedicate a company to developing voice technology, could you just imagine the results for a minute? How well would our phones perform with that sort of technology? Heck, we could even have voice driven house locks eventually (as in, it only unlocks your door if it hears the sound of your voice). Sure, that’s a crazy idea, but it’s very well possible.

So, here’s the question. What do you think about Voice Technology? Do you currently see it as reliable, or would you agree with me when I say it isn’t accurate? If someone were to dedicate a company to developing voice technology, if you could, would you back them on the idea and be interested in using that type of technology in your daily life? I think it sounds cool, and it would be pretty amazing if we got to that point. But for right now, it’s just a handy tool to use here and there.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!