Don’t underestimate the power of that gadget in your pocket to help you get “real work” done on the go. As smartphones get larger and computers get smaller, the lines between phone and tablet – and for that matter, PC and laptop are blurring. And as more apps are designed for tablet and touchscreen computers, their phone versions have become more robust and fully featured too.
Tools built specifically for mobile devices are usually designed for input without a keyboard, so voice and handwriting recognition have reached accuracy levels unimaginable even a few years ago. Best of all, mobile apps are often free or seldom cost more than a few dollars. Here are few you shouldn’t overlook:
Microsoft Office Mobile Applications: Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Office Lens – we’ve written before about the Office 365 anytime/anywhere integrations. Don’t forget your cell phone in that loop. Get an email that something needs tended to? Outlook & OneDrive let you grab the documents that need work, and make quick and easy edits right there on your phone. Better yet, since you’re using your phone to edit, you can likely use handwriting, voice, or “swipe” to enter your text more quickly. Office Lens serves as an on-the-go scanner, grabbing receipts, copies of documents, images of whiteboards, and anything else you might need a photograph of, and automatically sending them to OneDrive, Outlook, or OneNote for you. And if you drop it in OneNote, it becomes text searchable without any effort on your part.
Digital Assistants: Siri, Cortana, Google Voice – we’ve all seen folks using them to set alarms or get mobile direction, but most people don’t use those digital assistants to their full capability. It’s worth taking time to take the tutorials, and learn some of the tips & tricks for your particular service – they can frequently perform multi-step tasks, like opening and addressing emails and texts, or adding things to your calendar, if you only know what to ask, and how to ask for it.
Digital Dictation: Most available keyboards these days include handwriting recognition or voice dictation or both. If yours doesn’t, try “Swype” by Nuance Communications, which has both of those, plus “swipe” gesture typing and word prediction. Nuance Communications runs the voice recognition behind most of the major services, and their recognition accuracy is stunning. Look on the onscreen keyboard of your device, usually near the space bar, for a “microphone” icon. Press it, and when you are prompted, speak clearly and naturally into your phone, using basic punctuation and formatting commands like “comma”, “period”, “new line” or “new paragraph”. Wait a few seconds for the system to do its magic, and whole sentences will flow onto the screen – often with “sounds like” words and phrases adjusting themselves to the context of the full phrase, on the fly. If they don’t, tapping on an underlined phrase usually yields several more appropriate interpretations of what you said. It’s nothing short of amazing how well it works – but it’s not perfect, especially in high-noise or bad headset situations – so be sure to give it a quick proofread before it goes out.
If you need more robust dictation capability, including full formatting and correction ability, you might look at Dragon Anywhere, Nuance’s newest offering in the full-fledged dictation software market. We’ll review it a little more deeply soon – but the short version is it’s a cloud-based mobile subscription version of the famed Dragon Naturally Speaking desktop software. It uses your Dragon Anywhere account to sync up your voice recognition profile with any device you use that has a microphone, from tablet to phone to computer – and get your industry-specific terms, custom phrases, brand capitalization and more complex formatting, anywhere you happen to be.
Handwriting Recognition: No matter how bad you think your handwriting is, you should give some of the new handwriting recognition apps a try. From Google Handwriting to OneNote to notetaking apps like INKredible – device manufacturers and app developers are trying to make note-taking easier for those of us that just won’t give up our pens. A few tips though: if you think you want to use your phone or tablet as a note-taking device, get one that comes with a pen, or get the pen designed for it. Aftermarket stylus pens can be useful, but they can be hard to use without system-level palm protection (keeping your hand from making “marks” on the screen while you are writing with the pen) – and sloppy writing translates to poor recognition. Give it a try with OneNote – just open a new page, click the “draw” tab, choose a “pen” style, and write a paragraph or so of text in reasonably neat printing/script. When you get back to your desk, open the same page in OneNote, go to the draw tab, select your text and toggle the “Convert Ink to Text” button to see how well it did. The results will likely surprise you. Toggling the view is a good way to see how well your translation came out – but you really don’t have to. Try searching for some of the keywords in your text, and watch OneNote treat it just like your typewritten text!
Phones and tablets continue to evolve and offer more and more options. Take advantage of the efficiencies that they provide!