Email/SMS Reading Apps
A brief overview, list of features, pricing structure, and online reviews is presented for the Ping, ReaditToMe, DriveSafe.ly, Text'nDrive, Drivemode, Talker, Speaking Email, and Siri applications. Four insights relating to both frustrations, and useful feature of text to voice are also in the brief.
Voice App Profiles
- Headquartered in New York city, Ping, initially released in 2015, is privately held with between 2 to 10 employees. The app is currently available for iPhone and Android operating systems, and for Alexa and Google Home devices. Services are provided for users of iMessage, Gmail, Skype, WhatsApp, Hotmail, IMAP, Instagram, Tango, Twitter, Slack, Telegram, WeChat, SnapChat, and Google Hangouts. Support for app users is provided through the firstname.lastname@example.org email, and on the company website. An optional feature will bar the reading of promotional or social media emails.
- The Drive Mode feature allows the user to toggle between ping, navigation, and music. It starts automatically and offers an optional feature to allow the app to automatically hear who the message is from, but not the message. The app features an auto responder that allows the user to dismiss, archive, or call the sender via a one touch screen tap.
- The app pauses the reading of messages when a call is received, when navigation gives directions, it interrupts podcast, music, or audiobooks, and can read message when the screen is turned off. It requires access to the device location, contact and notification features to function. Languages supported include English, Arabic, Hebrew, Polish, Turkish, and thirty others
- Ping's pricing structure is stratified based on the service offered. Text messages and SMS are free, however the fully functional version is available for a free trail period of 14 days after purchase of the upgrade version.
- At the time of writing Ping has 2,966 reviews and an average rating of 4.3 in the Google App Store. One-star ratings in 2020 and 2019 referred to multiple restarts because the app crashed, it did not read Facebook messages, it closed repeatedly with the free version, there was no functionality after five minutes, rude customer support, and too many ads.
- Three stars reviews ranged from requests on how to uninstall the app, complaints that when it works it is great but overall it is erratic, it is unable to read texts from phones with more than one SIM, repeated readings of old messages, and no functionality after one day. Five stars reviews praised its usefulness, the convenience to a visually impaired person, accuracy, concept, easy setup, innovation, and price.
- ReaditToMe was developed by Android developer, Rob J in 2018 out of London, United Kingdom. The app supports SMS, Hangouts, Telegram, and WhatApp messages among others. Support is provided at email@example.com.
- ReaditToMe features automatic settings, translates dialect or broken English into standard English, supports any language provided the text to speech and text to voice engine has the language installed. It reads notifications out loud or just the title based on user specifications, allows the user to voice reply to a number of apps, including WhatsApp, Gmail, and Line, and for a fee, create device profiles
- ReaditToMe is offered free for most features, however the profiles feature is an in app upgrade offered free for the first two weeks on a trial basis. Permissions are required for the device ID and call information, microphone, location, contacts, Wi-Fi connection information, and phone status.
- The app has 4,156 reviews in the Android store with an average rating of 4.3. One-star ratings were given for the app reading the message twice, inconsistent replies, poor tutorials and FAQs, impacting on other apps and preventing them from working, for constant nagging to rate the app, and no response from customer support.
- Three stars ratings were given for almost working, being useful but then it stopped working, inconsistent usability and unclear instructions, being stuck in a loop, and inability to read the senders name for SMS messages. Five stars ratings were given for doing exactly what the user needed it to do, being handy and useful, being a good substitute for app removed during an upgrade to a Samsung Galaxy Note 5, and for being clean and intuitive to use.
- The DriveSafe.ly app was developed by iSpeech.org, a privately held company with an office in San Francisco and headquartered in Newark, New Jersey. The company also develops the iSpeech Translator, iSpeech Obama, and Caller ID Reader app.
- The DriveSafe.ly app used a text to speech API to read text messages and emails out loud. It is available for the Blackberry and Android operating systems and support is provided on the website and via email at support@iSpeech.org.
- Features include customizable timeout duration and auto-response, voice response, messages on demand via menu or auto play text SMS and emails, and low memory usage.
- The app is available free for both personal and business use. Paid plans are available for single and family users. The paid plan for personal or family use add an auto-responder, male or female voice choices, coverage for up to four family members, and language support in English, Spanish, and German. The business plan adds multi-user discounts, mobile browser downloads, or BES push, and SSL encryption.
- Despite the DriveSafe.ly website listing availability in the Android system, there is no entry for DriveSafe.ly in the Android app store. The BlackBerry App World store was scheduled to be closed in December 2019. A search of the website listed an entry for DriveSafe.ly, however there was no information on the page. A general search for reviews of the app led to articles dating from 2011, 2009, and 2010.
- Text'nDrive is a privately held mobile application with between 11 to 50 employees according to its entry on LinkedIn. The app has availability in the iPhone, Android, and Blackberry systems and offers its services in Spanish, French, and North American English.
- Text'nDrive offers users the option to listen to, and reply with voice, to messages. The service reads email from web providers, has compatibility with mobile carriers, functions with hands-free devices, and is easy to install and use.
- The pricing structure allows for listening to incoming messages only, with the free option. Users have to opt for the pay version if they wish to respond to the messages via the app.
- A search of the iPhone and Android App stores did not provide any information on the Text'nDrive app. A general search for reviews of the app provided articles from Macworld and appSafari dating from 2010. Macworld rated the app two and a half out of five, and AppSafari rated the app three out of five stars.
- Founded in 2014, Drivemode offers mobile-based technology for use while driving. The company's suite of driver assistance, analytics for fleet managers, and consumer facing apps have been downloaded by over 25 million users in 150 countries. The flagship product is the Drivemode app offered for Android systems. Drivemode Dash is available in the Apple App store and is marketed as a refinement of the Android app to appeal to precision and simplicity expectations of iOS users.
- Features of the Drivemode app include voice enabled commands, and integration with navigation, music, messaging, and assistant apps. Drivemode Dash offers voice commands for texting, calling, navigation, and to play music, voice search for contacts and destinations. Android friendly Drivemode has been installed over one million times. Support is provided on the website or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Permissions are required for identity, calendar, device and app history, location, contacts SMS. phone, Wi-Fi connection information, microphone, and device ID and call information. Drivemode is offered free on iOS and Android.
- The Drivemode Dash app has 18 reviews in the Apple store with an average rating of 3.3. The app was rated one-star for crashing when accessing contacts, three stars for not having dark mode enabled, and four stars for being the best of similar apps in the Apple App Store.
- Drivemode has 30,837 reviews in the Android store and an average rating of 4.2. The top positive review referred to the lack of ad interruptions, the easy accessibility of the navigation function, contact list, and Google talk apps, and for the overall awesome functionality of the app. The top critical review liked the app but opted to uninstall because of sporadic support, and issues with accessing contacts.
- Headquartered in Belmont, MA, Talker was founded in 2011 by Jeffrey Korn. The app not available in Android systems. It is offered free to iOS users with in-app purchases for upgrades to Talker Pro with one month and one year options, and exchange server support.
- Talker features include Talker QuickConnect for emails, AutoPilot for auto continue, the Raise-to-Ear privacy mode, TapAnywhere for eyes free use, Talker Exchange for communicating with business emails, and compatibility with Hotmail, iCloud, AOL, Yahoo, and Gmail. The app also features proximity awareness, plain English text to speech, custom voice pitch, triple tap, pinch to delete, recorded email replies, oversized text, custom speaking speed, and Bluetooth capacity.
- Talker has 33 ratings, and an overall score of 4.5, in the iOS App Store. The last rating is dated from May 2017 and awarded the app four stars after an initial one star rating, when the user could not get the app to work. A five stars rating was not given because the user wished for more than voice replies. One star reviews were given for constant reloading of all emails when the app or the car was turned on, because it never worked for the user, and because the user could not get it to work for Gmail, as it was considered a security risk.
- The Speaking Email app reads emails out loud. The app is developed by BEWEB Limited, a specialist web development company. BEWEB Limited has ten employees and is headquartered in Auckland, New Zealand. The company also offers the Savvy CMS content management system. The app works with iCloud, Yahoo Mail, IMAP, POP, Gmail, and Microsoft Exchange, and is available for iPhone and Android.
- Features of Speaking Email are voice and gesture commands, smart content detection, multilingual mode to detect the language used in the email, speech recognition technology, ignore sender commands, Bluetooth, assistive technology enabled.
- Speaking Email is offered in a basic free version, or with the option to upgrade to US$2 monthly for multiple accounts, dictation, forward delete, filtering, attachment, and multilingual features.
- There are 112 reviews from Android users who have given an average rating of 3.1 for the app. There are 60 reviewers in the iOS store who have given an overall rating of 4.3.
- Reviews in the iOS store for 2019 ranged from five stars for the best customer service and two stars for bad voice recognition. In the Android store, reviews range from five stars in 2020 for the apps intuitive and hands free usage, to one star in 2019 for continually crashing on a Samsung Galaxy phone.
- Siri is the voice assistant for the iOS ecosystem, developed by Apple Inc, and is available free with the purchase of any Apple device. Headquartered in Cupertino, California, the company was founded in 1976.
- Siri's features include the ability to make calls or send texts, announce messages, ID callers, procure directions, and translate from other languages.
- As a voice assistant, Siri has been reviewed as an "odd" mixture of well-prepared personality clashing with clumsy text to speech.
Insights — Text to Voice Apps Features
- Smart speaker sales achieved 20.7 million units in the first quarter of 2019, with the US accounting for 24% of the global market. US ownership of smart speakers rose to 66.4 million in 2018 or an increase of 40%, while 27% of US consumers used voice search on smart speakers.
- The fastest growing segments are in home automation and lighting (49%), home security and surveillance (18%), and audio and video entertainment (13%). When using voice commerce, American consumers are concerned about the security of purchases online (42%), placing orders that are incorrect (31%), and making duplicate orders (26%).
- The reasons for using a voice assistant are to effect control over other devices (40%), to check on the news and the weather (35%), to use voice search to play music (33%), for searching a topic instead of typing (32%), to send texts or emails (31%), to ask questions daily (29%), and to check on traffic or navigation (19%).
- Voice shopping was valued at $2 billion in 2017, and is estimated to reach $40 billion in 2022. Voice search benefits local businesses as 56% of US consumers used voice search on mobile devices to search for local businesses, while 28% used voice search on desktops to complete the same task. Monthly shopping list are updated using voice assistants in 45% of US households.
- A false positive occurs when a voice assistant is unintentionally summoned. Unintentional summons are a frequent occurrence with 64% of voice search assistant users, while only 5% of users have never experienced any frustration with voice assistants.
- Users accidentally accessed their voice assistants by pressing the wrong button (49%), by saying a name that is close to its name (29%), by using it in conversation without requesting it (26%), and by saying a similar name (20%).
- The occurrence is so frequent that it has become part of pop culture, with #AlexaFails and #SiriFails trending on social media. The US television show, South Park, capitalized on this vulnerability in the voice assistants in an episode titled, "White People Renovating Houses," when its characters ordered items from a virtual Alexa, triggering the same orders to be made by Alexa devices that were in the same room as the television.
- Voice apps handle certain queries better than others. They perform well with queries from a who, what, when and where standpoint, because these are simple and usually involve an answer with a clear, verifiable, and unambiguous answer. However, complex queries involving consideration of multiple sources of information that seek to answer the why and how questions, have proven to be difficult for voice apps to answer.
- This is attributable to voice apps yielding one response, whereas queries in a search engine can yield multiple permutations in answering a question. These characteristics are evident when the type of queries sent to voice assistants is analyzed. Action oriented queries such as "turn off the lights" are 40 times more popular than search queries. Similarly, conversational queries are 200 times more likely to occur with Google Assistant, than with Search.
- To improve search accuracy, in 2019, Google release updates to its Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformer (BERT) used to improve the company's ability to understand search queries using "for" and "to", which typically impact the meaning of a search, and process natural language.
Natural Language Processing and Conversational Analytics
- The field of Natural Language Processing (NLP), which underpins how voice apps work, paired with conversational analytics, was ranked in the top 10 data and analytics trends for 2020 by InformationWeek. Garner estimates that 50% of analytical queries will be generated from search, NLP, or voice.
- Metrics that can be tracked using conversational analytics and include searches that combine intent and parameters to provide insights on consumer behavior, sentiment analysis that looks at the tone, pitch, and language used when voice app users speak about a brand, examination of errors and null statements to determine where platforms and devices do not meet users requirements, and pathing, where the steps taken to construct a conversation and the paths undertaken by users afterwards are analyzed.
- Interactions with the digital world has been changed with the advent of conversational platforms. Perceptions of the digital world will be similarly changed with increased usage of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). These two factors when combined will evolve into a multichannel, multi-modal experience. The multi-modal experience connects people across the digital world via the edge devices around them, and the multichannel experience will call the human senses and advanced computer senses into play. The computer will be defined not by the individual devices, but by the very space surrounding humans.
The overview of the text to voice apps provided in the brief was completed by the research team using data sourced from the product websites, and the Android and iOS App Stores as applicable. This was done for all the applications. Where data was not available in the App stores, a general search for information on the app was completed. This search yielded information on product reviews from Macworld and appSafari. Insights into pain points and features users look for in text to voice apps was sourced from a general search for trends, statistics, and articles discussing the text to voice market.