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5 Tips for Smartphone Voice Tools

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It has been a decade since Apple integrated Siri right into its iPhone software and mainstreamed the voice-activated assistant. But the assistant is just one of the voice-powered tools in your smartphone’s ever-growing audio toolbox. Your device can also be a digital recorder, a dictation machine, a podcast production studio and more. Here’s how to get things done with more talking and less typing.

You’ve probably already introduced yourself to Apple’s Siri, the Google Assistant for Android (and iOS) or Samsung’s Bixby during your phone’s setup process. You may have even already tried it out by asking for the weather report or setting a timer. But the biggest challenge with using a voice assistant is knowing the various tasks the software can handle and the devices it runs on — which now include tablets, speakers, smart-home hubs, automobile systems and streaming TV boxes.

Notes apps are great for jotting down quick ideas, but it can be even quicker to record an audio clip; your assistant can even open the app for you. You can also record interviews with relatives for family-history archives or school projects.

The phone’s recording app works just like a physical recorder — push the Record button to start and the Pause or Stop to halt the session. You end up with an audio file you can play, transfer to a computer and back up online. Third-party apps abound, but your phone probably has its own free recording program.

Apple’s iPhone includes a Voice Memos app and Google’s Recorder app for Android is free to download in the Google Play Store. Samsung includes its Voice Recorder on many of its Galaxy phones, but also makes it available in the Galaxy and Google app stores.

Need a personal secretary to take dictation — or find typing difficult? Your phone can convert your spoken words into text. Just look for a microphone icon on the keyboard or search bar, tap it and start talking to see your words appear on the screen.

When dictating long passages of text like an email message or sections of your novel-in-progress into a word-processing app, you’ll need to call out the punctuation by name. For example, say “period” when the sentence ends or “new paragraph” to start a fresh paragraph.

The speech-to-text feature may be on (or off) by default, so check your settings. Apple’s site has a guide for using the dictation feature on its devices, as does Google for its Android system (and the Gboard app for iOS). Bixby has a Dictate feature of its own, with instructions on the Samsung site.

An audio clip shares the sound of your world. Sending audio can also be useful if you can’t type at the moment, although your assistant can also take and send a text message.

To send an audio clip in Apple’s Messages app, press and hold the sound-wave icon in the message box and record your clip. You can preview it before you send it. (To save space, the audio clips are automatically deleted two minutes after you listen unless you select the Keep option.)

Google’s Message app for Android sends audio messages in a similar manner: Just press the microphone icon in your conversation to record a clip to send. Note that if you send a message to someone on a different phone platform, though, you may have to record the clip in another app and send the file as an attachment.

Podcasts have replaced blogs as a medium of self-expression for many people. If you’re thinking of starting your own show, you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment. Free or inexpensive apps like Spotify’s Anchor, Podbean’s Audio Recorder and Spreaker Studio for Android and iOS provide recording and editing tools right on your phone, as well as publishing and distribution platforms for your podcast.

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Whole Foods will soon let customers pay for groceries with palm scan

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Whole Foods will soon let customers pay for groceries using its parent company’s palm-scanning technology.

Amazon said Wednesday its palm-scanning system — currently used in about a dozen of its brick and mortar stores — will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the first of many planned rollouts at other locations.

The system uses Amazon One technology, which employs high-tech imaging and algorithms to create and detect a “unique palm signature” based on the ridges, lines and veins in each person’s hand.

Its high-tech sensors don’t require users to touch the scanning surface, like Apple’s fingerprint technology does.

Instead, palm-reading tech uses computer vision and depth geometry to process and identify the shape and size of each hand they scan before charging a credit card on file.

Amazon One will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, with many rollouts at other locations planned for the future.
Amazon One will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, with many rollouts at other locations planned for the future.
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The company said that the palm-scanning tech will be offered as just one of many payment options at participating Whole Foods Stores and that it won’t impact store employees’ job responsibilities.

“At Whole Foods Market, we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the shopping experience for our customers,” said Arun Rajan, senior vice president of technology and chief technology officer at Whole Foods Market.

Palm images used by Amazon One are encrypted and stored in a “highly secure” cloud, and customers can request to have their palm data deleted.

The company claims palm-scanning tech is more private than other biometric alternatives, such as facial recognition.

Amazon One builds on the “Just Walk Out” technology that Amazon uses in its Go stores, which detects the items shoppers pick up and charges them once they leave — without the need for a checkout line

Amazon is also planning to expand the cashier-less technology to Whole Foods, as reported by The Post.

Meanwhile, the tech could be good for its bottom line. The online behemoth aims to sell its palm-scanning tech to other companies like retailers, stadiums and office buildings.

Amazon One scanner
The scanner uses high-tech imaging and algorithms to create and detect a unique palm signature which is then encrypted and stored in a secured cloud.
Amazon

Last September, it said it was in “active discussions with several potential customers.” But it is unclear if it has progressed on any of those fronts.

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Apple’s new iPad Pros and TV remote don’t have U1 locators to help find them in your couch

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Apple has been quietly sticking special locator beacon chips into some of its new iPhones that’ll let you unlock your car and find lost items through walls — the latter thanks to the $29 AirTags announced today — but sadly, you won’t find that chip in the new M1-based iPad Pros or the long-awaited new Siri remote for the Apple TV.

Apple confirmed to us that the U1 locator chip, which uses pulses of ultra-wideband (UWB) radio to broadcast its precise location, won’t appear in the Siri remote. We’re waiting on final bulletproof confirmation about the iPad Pros, but it also doesn’t appear in their product page, spec sheet, or press release. Last year’s iP ad Pros didn’t include a U1 chip, either.

Is Apple expecting us to stick AirTags to our iPads and TV remotes to escape the jaws of the ever-ravenous couch? Unlikely, but the company has been pretty choosey about which devices get the chip so far. You can find it in the iPhone 11 and newer (but not the iPhone SE) and the Apple Watch Series 6 (but not the Apple Watch SE), but we’re pretty sure it hasn’t made its way to any iPads or MacBooks that have been announced since the chip’s introduction in September 2019.

Theoretically, Apple could build an ecosystem where any Apple device can easily find any other Apple device (not to mention UWB devices from Samsung, which is also deeply invested in the tech and has its own AirTag-like device as well). But for now, you’ll primarily just be using your phone to find AirTags, not other gadgets, except perhaps your future car.

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Your iPhone has a completely hidden app. Here’s how to find and use it

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Apple’s iPhone is full of hidden features and tricks we’re constantly discovering. For instance, did you know the Notes app has a hidden document scanner? Yeah, pretty cool. The latest hidden feature that’s been popping up on Twitter and blogs is another type of scanner, dedicated to QR codes, and it’s better than the one built into the camera app.

Indeed, you would already be able to filter QR codes utilizing the easy route in Control Center, or simply open the camera application and it will check a QR code. Also, you’re correct. Both of those strategies turn out great. However, the committed Code Scanner application accepts the position above and beyond by introducing a greater amount of the data I need to see about an examined code.

For instance, the camera application utilizes a little notice at the highest point of the screen to open a connection or show you data, though the devoted Code Scanner application makes it exceptionally clear what’s inside the QR code you just checked. Yet, here’s the rub: The Code Scanner application isn’t found on your home screen, nor is it found in iOS 14’s new App Library.

As should be obvious, the best way to discover the Code Scanner application is to utilize the iPhone’s Spotlight search include. Go to your iPhone’s home screen and swipe down in the center of the screen. An inquiry bar will show up at the highest point of your screen, alongside application and alternate route ideas underneath. Type either code or scanner. As you type, you’ll see the Code Scanner application symbol appear as an application idea. Tap to open it.

The flashlight icon at the bottom of the screen acts as a flash to illuminate a code if your phone is struggling to read it.

If you don’t have the QR scanner shortcut added to Control Center yet, here’s a post showing you how to customize Control Center to your liking. For more hidden features, check out our list for iOS 14. We also cover more general, but useful features in iOS 14.

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