Wednesday, May 18, 2016

My hands-free universe, pushing me past smartphone juggling

I love my smartphone, don't get me wrong. But I've been hoping that bright minds were working on ways to solve two problems: Decoupling the phone from all the tasks I need to do, so there's less risk to me if the phone is disabled, and finding a way to avoid my having to juggle the phone along with everything else I need my hands to manage. This trend has been creeping in slowly until this year, when the frontier really opened up. And I'm more excited about this seemingly simple change than many other advances. You may talk about them as wearables, like my Ringly, or the Internet of Things. I call it my hands-free universe, and it goes beyond having turn-by-turn directions read to me while I drive.

Take the Amazon Echo, a hub that plays music, carries out commands, answers questions, and more...all from voice commands. The Amazon Echo turns out to be so indispensible, I'm planning to buy another one. The genius here was releasing the code so many developers could create "skills" for the Echo, from banking and shopping to home-device controls and reading me my audiobooks. Using IFTTT to create trigger commands, I can even fashion my own set of directions for the device, an advantage that other "smart" devices should take to heart. That lets me benefit from others' creativity. The Echo keeps gaining functionality without my having to do anything...the best hands-free function of all. Many say it's the device that the Apple Watch should have been, in many ways.

As a public speaking coach, I'm also excited about the Kindle Oasis, Amazon's latest tablet. It's not entirely hands-free, but was designed so you can advance pages with one hand. That's a serious advantage for speakers and panel moderators who want to use it for their notes, a modern version of index cards, but easier to manipulate. It means speakers and moderators can come out from behind the lectern, holding the Kindle Oasis with no need to rest it on a surface. As with previous Kindles, you can email your documents to the device and read them just as you would an ebook. And with the same type-size-increase functions as previous Kindles, you can adjust what you're reading in real time. It's also thinner and lighter to hold, another advantage.

These are just two options for hands-free work and living. But I've found they have reintroduced a level of ease that I found missing in the mashup of many devices I own. I'm glad to see this transition coming about.

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