Many of us first experienced voice recognition as horrible customer service: You inevitably find yourself screaming “representative,” “operator,” or, most desperately and least effectively, “HUMAN!” while your coworkers laugh at your plight.
I expected the worst from Apple’s Siri, only to be pleasantly surprised the first time I encountered it, when my friend’s iPhone sent me a text despite my name (Aarti) possibly having presented a challenge.
As such, I had high hopes when I came across Vela (“Voice Enhance Listening Assistant”), which promises to be the only app that can control Rdio and Spotify (and, maybe later, Rhapsody) with your voice. Unfortunately, it was a slight letdown.
To begin using Vela (free, iOS; the pro version adds concert tickets, chords, lyrics, new release notifications), you’ll have to log into your premium Spotify or Rdio account after opening the app. (The description says Rhapsody is also available, but it was disabled when we tested the app.)
To search for an artist, song, or album, tap the large microphone icon in the center of the screen, then just tell the app what you’re looking for. Ideally, it will find the correct result and begin playback immediately from your service of choice.
On my first try, I asked Vela to find Ty Segall not expecting that to be a huge challenge.
The app thought I said “High Eagle” and began playing something that was definitely not what I was looking for. Mind you, I was trying the app indoors with no background noise whatsoever. I tried again, enunciating each syllable, and once again: “High Eagle” — this time with no matches. That’s weird. I could’ve sworn it just did.
Finally, I held the phone up to my mouth and again requested Ty Segall as slowly and clearly as possible. This time Vela registered what I said correctly, but still didn’t produce any matches, because it spelled “Ty Segal” with one “l.” Finally, I resorted to tapping the name into the app by hand, the way I would with Spotify or Rdio themselves, when the app produced appropriate matches and began playback immediately, with no other tampering required.
So far, though, my experience defeated the whole purpose of a voice control app. I spent a lot of time fussing around and wasn’t able to play what I wanted without typing.
Undeterred, I searched for several other artists, songs, and albums in the course of my testing, and things improved for the most part: If Spotify had what I was looking for, the app was often successful, and when it was, I was happy.
When Vela does what it’s supposed to, it’s a pretty good tool to have. For joggers and drivers, this voice control is a decent safety feature, and a fun parlor trick for anyone who has yet to see Siri in action. Vela runs on the company’s own proprietary engine; perhaps, though, it would do better with actual Siri integration (something Spotify CEO Daniel Ek once demonstrated in a hack).
While you may not have success all the time with Vela, you should check it out if voice control appeals to you, and you subscribe to Rdio or Spotify. After all, it’s free, and it works — sometimes. And for now, it’s the only way to ask your phone to play stuff from Rdio or Spotify. (Do you know of another way? Let us know so we can share it.)