Windows Phone 7 Speech

Windows Phone 7 has some really nice voice control and speech recognition features such as the ability to transcribe text messages and even reply to or write new messages to people in your contacts but to name one of the features. I’ve used the text messaging speech control on a couple of occasions in the car, but only really by fluke due to the fact that I had my phone connected to the car for playing music at the time.

You can read the official Microsoft page on speech control at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsphone/en-us/howto/wp7/get-started-speech.aspx.

I’ve never really been a big speech or voice control user, let alone a fan. I don’t spend a lot of time travelling in the car and typically, my phone is with me, on my person, so I use my hands as after all, that big touch screen on the HTC HD7 is made for them.

As a Christmas gift, I bought my wife and me a Scala Rider Q2 Multiset Pro (http://www.cardosystems.com/scala-rider/scala-rider-q2-multiset), which is a helmet mounted voice activated rider to pillion (and bike to bike) communication system, but it also triples as an FM Radio and a Bluetooth headset, allowing me to connect my phone and satnav device to it so that I can get handsfree Bluetooth calls or music whilst riding and get satnav directions through the helmet.

I fitted my Scala Rider unit to my helmet yesterday and thought I would have a play with some of the speech controls of my Windows Phone as I would be using some of them now via the helmet.

The call commands are pretty intuitive and what you would expect: Call is the opening command  followed by the name of the person and optionally which number to call them on. For example, call Richard Green Work would dial my work number. If you omit the work, home or mobile command, then the phone will prompt you for which number to dial if you have multiple numbers for a given contact.

The text command is pretty simple too: Text is the opening command followed by the name of the person. You will then be prompted to start speaking your message. Once you’re done, the phone will read back the transcript and if you’re happy with it, you can say Send, or you can say Try Again to start over if it misheard you. On the receiving side, when you receive an incoming text, the phone will announce that you have a new message and the name of the contact whom it is from and you are given the option to have it read out loud and then reply if you wish.

The application commands, again are simple and intuitive, and herein lies the problem. Saying Open followed by the name of an application of feature on the phone and it will do so, for example Open Zune will open the Music and Videos Hub (renamed from the Zune Hub pre-Mango update). You can say Open Music and Videos too, but why would you when you can just say Zune? This works for any application, including third-party ones, so I can say Open Sky News or Open Endomondo and the app will promptly open, however this is where it ends.

Once the Music and Videos Hub is open, there is no way to start playing music, play a particular artist, a playlist or anything.

I love my Windows Phone as anyone remotely close to me will tell you. The style of it, the ease of use and the way it gives me the data I want quickly and easy to read with those big blocks of bold colour, but most of all, my passion for all things Microsoft, but this is one area that flops.

What is the purpose of being able to open an application on the phone via speech if you then can’t control the application beyond that? I know that Microsoft can’t be expected or even be able to implement deep level interoperability for speech control for third party applications because Microsoft have no understanding of the function and purpose of the applications or code used to make those applications function (beyond the actual language used), but a deep rooted part of the operating system such as music, messaging and phone should be there out of the box.

Ignoring the new Siri functionality on the iPhone 4S which is different to what I’m covering here – Just the core platform controls, and an iPhone user can dictate to the phone to shuffle all music, play a particular album, artist or playlist which is what you need. Going back to my original statement, I’ve never been a big speech user, this one-up-manship for the iPhone didn’t phase me, however with my shift in needs, it does.

Now, in my circumstances, the phone is safely inside my backpack while I’m riding, so touching the phone to operate it isn’t even remotely viable. If I wanted to listen to music on the road, I would have to start the music playing before I get all my gloves and other gear on so that it’s already rolling before I’m rolling. If I want to stop the music for any reason, I need to take off, at a minimum, my gloves and backpack so that I can get into the bag to stop it. If I’m on the subject of music on Windows Phone, why is the music volume linked to the system volume? There should be separate control for the music and system volumes, as well as a separate control for the ringtone volume, however that’s a separate rant.

I still prefer my Windows Phone to any iPhone offering, because it does what I want, how I want it (except for this one occasion), however on this occasion, I do envy those owners. I’ve read multiple rumours about speech operation in Windows Phone 7 Tango update rumoured to be coming in 2012 which will bring the speech more inline with that seen in Siri, however for me, now, this can’t come soon enough.

Windows Home Server Vail Streaming Done How it Should Be

I was just looking at this video on Channel 9 about Windows Home Server Vail, and I noticed something I didn’t discover in my play with the Public Beta. Scroll through to 6:35 onwards.

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What you’ll see, is that at 7:07 the guy hovers over one of the images in the flowing album cover background and selects an option for play.

Zune 4.1 and 4.2 along with Windows Media Center have the same style interface with the flowing covers, however neither of them can do this click to play thing, and I have to wonder why.

The first time I used by Zune player I kept trying to click and wondering why it didn’t work – It’s a natural reaction I think, so congratulations Windows Home Server team for getting it right. I look forward to the Zune team and Windows Media Center team looking at your work here and adopting it for themselves.

On the downside however, I would have liked to have seem some Zune integration in Home Server Vail, especially as Windows Phone 7 and Xbox are making good inroads.

Windows Phone 7 Series

Mobile World Congress this week in Barcelona saw the unveiling of Windows Phone 7 Series, or Windows Mobile 7 as a lot of people with undoubtedly refer to it as, Microsoft’s latest browser OS.

This is something that the blogosphere and tech communities have both been waiting for, for a long time, hearing about for a long time, rumouring about for a long time and holding breath for too.

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Windows Mobile 6.x was always about business productivity. Windows Mobile 6.5.x tried to bring Windows Mobile to the consumer and user centric markets, however was met with a lot of critique (not from me by any means).

Looking to capitalize on the success of Windows 7 and hoping 7 was their lucky number, Microsoft have announced Windows Phone 7 Series, which looks set to change all of that with a totally re-written from nothing to something (awesome) mobile operating system and not just a refresh like previous versions.

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Music Library Masterpiece: Part 2

As my music library undertaking continues to get the better of me, I thought I’d post about a few things that have happened since I last wrote anything:

1: FLAC Vs. MP3 and CBR Vs. VBR

I have spent a lot of time reading about FLAC Vs. MP3 and come to the conclusion (with the help of GoldWave and some Bandstop filters) that I can’t tell the difference between an MP3 and a FLAC file, but let’s be clear here. When I say MP3, I don’t mean some tatty old 64 Kbps file that was thrown together the day MP3 was invented. I’m talking about an MP3 which was ripped from a FLAC file at VBR –V0 using LAME encoder.

Using the Bandstop in GoldWave and some research online, I found that the MP3 has audio data all the way up to about 20,000 Hz, which is the point at which all I start to hear is echoes  and silence which means that the extra 20MB of disk space occupied by the FLAC just isn’t worth it.

I used to rip all my old stuff in CBR 320 Kbps until I read an article online discussing the finer points of CBR Vs. VBR which lead me to realise that VBR –V0 gives the same if not better quality audio for smaller file sizes due to the variable element of it. What I think mislead me with VBR in the past is that a VBR –V0 file reports in Windows as the average bit rate of the track and not the maximum. A Texas song I have here for example shows itself as 266 Kbps but the waveform within the file proves it has the same info as the CBR 320 Kbps file.

2: Stereo Vs. Joint Stereo

It’s too complicated to go into here, but basically LAME encoder uses the better of two algorithms which means Joint Stereo  is as good as the forced stereo.

3: I think I hate Windows Media Player – Still undecided though

From my last post you will know I’m taking a lot of time to get the 500×500 px high resolution artwork for all my albums so that they will look delicious on my Zune and possibly Windows Media Center or Xbox in the future. To my disgust today, I noticed that a lot of my artworks are now 200×200 px and that a lot of the AlbumArtSmall_??????????????.jpg files have returned. My only assumption is that this is the doing of Windows Media Center when I re-added all my music to it for the purpose of streaming to the PS3.

Not impressed to say the least. Although the MP3’s have the 500×500 px versions embedded still, the folder.jpg version is still important. The next step is to re-apply the high resolution versions and then mark them as Read-Only to see if this stops Windows Media Player changing them.

Music Library Masterpiece: Part 1

Do you ever get the feeling you’ve bitten off far more than you should chew?

When I first start running I read that listening to music over 130 BPM is ideal because the music helps to keep you going, whilst listening to low BPM music will slow you down. I discovered a great program called BPM Analyzer which scans your MP3 and WMA files and adds the BPM to the ID3 tag on the file.

My plan was to do this, and then create playlist based on music over 130 BPM, however I hit a problem. Some of my MP3’s wouldn’t scan. From a previous lesson with iTunes and MP3 corruption, I grabbed a copy of MP3val to validate the MP3’s for errors. Sure enough lots of MP3’s had errors, some of which couldn’t be fixed.

The big thing here though was what I noticed during the repair session – The filenames on my MP3’s where all disorganised not to mention the folder structure and tagging. My mission therefore was to organise and sort my music library.

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Zune Software on Windows 7

So I’ve been using Windows 7 for a little bit now, and I went to sync my Zune with it for the first time and came across a problem:The software wouldn’t detect the Zune even though Windows Devices and Printers could see the Zune and installed the drivers?

I’m using UAC in 7 to try out some of the new levels Microsoft have added to see if it’s worth sticking with, so I tried running the software as Administrator and it picked up the device just fine.

Seems that you need to do this for the first run of the software you need this to initialize the drivers as I can run the software now under limited mode without issues.

I’m sure this will be something that the Zune team will pick-up in Zune 3.2 or whatever the next release will be.

Rise of the Live Brigade

Over the last two weeks, things have changed around these parts. I’ve upgraded to Vista on my PC – Vista Business SP! if were going to get technical which we will of course 🙂

Having upgraded to Vista, I’ve been more interested in some of the things Microsoft are doing at the moment – Yes it is possible for me to be more interested in something Microsoft are doing than I was previously!

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