iPhone hidden features: Bluetooth headset support and Voice Control

iphone-voice-control-bluetooth-headset-musicThis is the first of an article series about features our iPhones have that are not-so-obivous until you find them and try them once. All these features are explained somewhere on the web, and most of them are well detailed on Apple’s website, but, if you’re like me, you’re not going to explore that website searching for features of your iPhone – you’ll search for a feature the moment you need it.

Voice Control is a new feature Apple introduced with the iPhone 3GS. You can use your voice to make a call or to play music… even through a bluetooth headset.To invoke Voice Control, just press and hold the Home button until the Voice Control screen appears and you hear a beep You can also press and hold the center button on the iPhone headset (or the equivalent button on your Bluetooth headset) to use Voice Control. Then wait for a second beep before you speak. If the iPhone vibration is active and you have it in your pocket, you’ll notice that the device will vibrate at the second beep.

Apple’s website says: “Voice Control can find anybody in your contacts list. Simply say a name to make a call. Or say a phone number. iPhone repeats your voice commands to confirm them, then dials away. Voice Control knows the music in your iPod, too. Ask your iPhone what song is playing (and hear it answer). Tell it to play your favorite album. Even have it play more songs like the one you’re listening to.”

The great thing is that the iPhone will support almost any bluetooth headset. I purchased mine for 10 euros and while the box didn’t mention iPhone support, the device was recognized immediately and the main button works as described. Volume buttons do not work, but that’s an ok compromise considering how cheap this thing was.

You can use the bluetooth headset only to make and receive calls: you cannot listen to music wirelessly (yet). A workaround for this exists: it appears that you can also engage this functionality by going to the voicemail screen and clicking on the audio source button in the top right-hand corner, then selecting the bluetooth device and subsequently selecting the iPod function and playing audio (I could not test it because voicemail in italy relies on an external service so I do not have access to that screen).

That’s very annoying, especially considering stereo bluetooth headsets exist, however I am a happy owner of the Apple’s in-ear headphones with iPhone controls so when I want to listen to music or play games I just use these, which certainly have a better audio then a 10 euros bluetooth headset. :)

Speaking of Apple’s dumb but strategically intended shortcomings: if you’ve tried Voice Control once, you also know that speech synthesis is there in many languages –- here is the amazing list: Chinese (Cantonese), Chinese (China), Chinese (Taiwan), Dutch, English (UK), English (U.S.), Finnish, French (Canada), French (France), German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Russian, Spanish (Mexico), Spanish (Spain), Swedish! — but that is not made available through the SDK. Therefore, if you want speech synthesis on the iPhone you still need to look into 3rd parties libraries.

To enable bluetooth on your iPhone, go to Settings > General > Bluetooth. Once you coupled the iPhone with the headset, the iPhone will recognize it automatically every time it’s within range and bluetooth is enabled. The Bluetooth indicator in your home screen will blink when a bluetooth device gets connected and — I guess — is a little brighter (gray on black vs. slightly-lighter gray on black… Steve?! how do you tell the difference?).

You can make sure the device is connected by opening any app that uses the gray status bar, on which the indicator is blue when connected, gray when disconnected.

You can speed up the process by going to the above-mentioned bluetooth settings screen and tap once on the device name (not on the detail disclosure button).

If you never tried a bluetooth headset, I can tell you that the wireless solution is much more comfortable to use to make calls when you’re driving or on-the-go — and won’t insulate you from the external world like Apple’s in-ear monitor. At 10 euros, it’s worth to try anyway.

See the full list of posts in this series.