Recently there has been an increased focus on our barriers to multitasking. For example, imagine yourself driving as you receive a twitter update or an SMS on your cell phone. Without a driverless car, your eyes must be focused on the road with your hands on the steering wheel, not on your phone. And that’s just one case; the desire for visual and tactile independence is true for any situation where your attention is required elsewhere. In this sense, I am starting to see more and more options for programs to read information aloud.
The improvement in speech recognition and text-to-speech programs has transformed our interactions with smartphones. For example, the Samsung Galaxy SIII comes equipped with “Driving mode”: a service that announces incoming calls, reads inbound text messages and emails, and allows you to reply back orally. Furthermore, look at personal assistant services like Siri and Sherpa. These apps provide a way to essentially maintain an oral conversation with your mobile device, accessing data from the phone’s systems, apps and internet sites. I find these programs valuable; I rely on my mobile phone primarily as a source of news and updates from my social networks.
For this reason, some months ago I created an Android app called RadioMe. In September it was improved and renamed SpotRadio. It’s a radio that reads your social media feeds, so that you can receive your Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, LinkedIn updates by spoken word. I personally find it most useful on my bike trips, which are often long and well accompanied by a mix of music and personal news.
What’s more, in the market for social DJ apps I have a great competitor: The Social Radio. Its creator Roberto Gluck and I recently discussed the similarities and differences between our apps with the hope of improvement on both ends.
The Social Radio has many advantages – its default TTS program provides a more realistic, less robotic voice that changes between male and female. It recognizes two more languages than SpotRadio, one of which is Russian. The app has Android, iOS and web versions, while SpotRadio currently only supports Android. Its interface is simple like SpotRadio’s, and although it has less options for configuring frequency and duration of music and social news, it offers more choices for receiving Twitter news: you can listen to customized lists or trending topics as opposed to the full stream.
However, The Social Radio doesn’t read other social media networks- it’s only available for Twitter, whereas SpotRadio can integrate Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail and SMS. At the same time, the app consumes much more bandwidth than SpotRadio because the voices are synthesized on an external server, rather than on the device itself. Additionally, while SpotRadio keeps social media account information within the app, The Social Radio requires authorizing access to Twitter account every time the app is opened. SpotRadio provides your social news in written form, recognizes duplicate updates and won’t read the provider of the update if you prefer not to hear it- options unavailable in The Social Radio.
The Social Radio and SpotRadio are two new tools of many that offer the ability to receive spoken notifications from your handheld device. Whether accessing your Facebook updates or reading you an email, this auditory trend is convenient and increasingly relevant to multitaskers. In any case, it should take off even further as improvement in TTS and voice recognition technology continues.
I’m happy to announce that I’ve recently improved on a project of mine. An Android app I designed some time ago, RadioMe, has been upgraded to SpotRadio. I came up with the idea of a “social media DJ” while on a bike ride. I usually would listen to music, but I hated the thought of not knowing what was going on around me, of not being connected. I had to stop mid-bike ride to check e-mails and read Facebook/Twitter streams. RadioMe solved this problem, and SpotRadio makes it better.
SpotRadio is a social radio that plays your Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, LinkedIn, Google Reader and SMS so you LISTEN to it instead of looking at the screen. It allows you to be listening simultaneously to any music player on your phone, for example Spotify or Play Music. When you receive updates, SpotRadio turns the music down on these players, and turns it up again as soon as you’re up-to-date.
You can configure how frequently you want to be updated, and how many updates should be read during the “social break”. To make it easy, you only need to define the “music period” and the “update period” (e.g. ten minutes listening to music, then two minutes social updates, then back to music for ten minutes…). It’s perfect for when you ride your bike, drive around in your car or simply prefer to hear what’s going on rather than reading it.
The app is multilingual, so it can read updates in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and even in Japanese and Simplified Chinese. You just have to tell SpotRadio which languages to detect. If you get an incoming call, SpotRadio pauses automatically. You can configure the volume of the music/updates, whether you want SpotRadio to stop reading upon shaking, temporarily turn off certain providers, etc. Duplicate updates are automatically recognized and only one will be read. The notification bar at the top of your Android’s screen indicates whether SpotRadio is talking, downloading updates or waiting.
One really important aspect is the speech synthesis. The standard PICO TTS voice included in every Android device sounds like a robot from the 80’s with a cold. So if you want to use this app more comfortably, you should definitely install SVOX TTS from the Android Market- it sounds better and is quite cheap. I designed SpotRadio, and it was built by Alberto Alonso Ruibal.
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