Friday, October 23, 2015

Android Voice Commands for Cyclists Listening to Podcasts or Music

Disclaimer: I do not recommend using earphones while on your bike, but there are times or roads where I think it's OK. Pull out your earphones when nearing potentially dangerous situations (like intersections). At least pause the audio.

These tips also apply to anyone unable to look at and touch their device, leaving voice commands their only option (useful for visually impaired people, people wearing thick gloves, etc).
First of all, you need an Android with a fairly new version of Google Now installed, like Lollipop.
You'll need a headset with a microphone button. I’ve got an iphone headset that works great with my old Moto G, excluding the volume control.
You need to make sure that a connected headset can bypass the device’s lock mechanism. It’s in:
        Settings -> Language & input -> Google voice typing -> Hands-free
Your audio playback software has to work with the Google Now commands. I’ve tried Google Music and BeyondPod successfully.
So, off we go! You’ll want to practice a bit before doing this on your bike: 
  1. Lock your phone and put it in your pocket with the headset connected.
  2. Hold down the mike button until you hear a bell like “ba-ding!”. 
  3. Let go of the button.
  4. Enter the voice command clearly (you don’t have to say “OK Google” first)
  5. Wait until you hear another cheery ding sound, followed by Google Now’s voice confirming your command.
If you hear “Bong bong bong bong…”, that means there’s no signal or something. Just try again later. If Google Now doesn't grok what you're trying to say, start over.
Here are the commands I’ve found useful on the bike so far:
  • Resume” - this will start audio playback in whatever state you did previously (I think). Also un-pause.
  • Pause” - self-explanatory. Note that tapping the mike button will also pause/resume, but I have found it to be a bit unreliable when resuming especially.
  • Skip to the next track” - self-explanatory, some variations in how you formulate it is OK I noticed.
  • Open beyondpod” - opens the app BeyondPod. This could be useful if I want to get out of Google Music.
  • Tell my wife on hangouts, I’m on my way home” - I always forget to tell my wife when I leave work on the bike, so this is handy. If you leave out the “on hangouts” bit, it will just send a text message. Not sure if other IMs are supported.
  • What time is it” - handy to see if I’m running late.
  • What’s the weather like tonight/tomorrow” - always good to know when cycling.
  • What’s my schedule today/tomorrow” - I haven’t tried this but could be useful.
  • Help” - this one will make Google Now explain some voice commands for you.
If you’re cycling with some speed, you’ll need to cup the mike with your hand to avoid overloading your command with noise from the wind. For the same reason, I try not doing phone-calls while on the bike.
Any useful commands that I’ve missed? 
There are various lists of possible voice commands online, but unfortunately most of them are just useful when you’re looking at the phone in your hand. More can be found here: