Using the iPhone Hands-Free

categories: Uncategorized

I80 - Bonneville Salt Flats

Interstate 80 can be a very boring road. To  underline that fact the highway has big orange signs near the Bonneville salt flats in Utah that advise on the dangers of falling asleep. The wide open landscapes of the highway as it stretches through Utah and Nevada also challenge the solo roadtripper to try and stay awake.

It was in these trenches recently that I was trying to determine how to best make use of my new iPhone 4 on a road trip. My goal was to make the trip entertaining and productive while still traveling safely. The first requirement therefore was to keep my eyes on the road as much as possible.


The iPhone has a hands-free capability that is common in smart phones. When you are wearing the standard iPhone ear buds (in one ear only for safety) and you hold down the control button on the ear buds then you can enter a mode where you can give the iPod a very limited set of voice commands. The two commands are “play” as in “play Billy Joel” to play all songs by the artist or “play playlist Podcasts” to start a particular playlist.

You can also make phone calls using a command like “call Joan Christensen”. If the person you are calling has more than one number you will have to specify home,mobile or work.


As I have documented elsewhere I am a podcast junkie with subscriptions to a few more than 70 Podcasts, but the Apple podcast interface on the iPhone is not the best for using safely on the road. In an earlier post I gave instructions how to create a smart playlist for podcasts (Managing Podcasts with Smart Playlists in iTunes). Start this playlist and it will play all your Podcasts back to back to back without having to look at the screen.

Capturing Ideas

When I am driving I get lots of ideas for things that I want to do. Pulling out a paper and pencil to write them down seems like a particular unsafe idea so one of the numbers in my cell phone is my own Google Voice phone number. I can tell the phone to “dial google voice” and then leave myself a message that will be emailed to me with a (particularly bad) transcription but also with a link to the audio file.

I could also leave myself a voice memo on my phone but have found that I don’t remember to look on my phone for messages so it is a good way for me to forget something.


One thing I would like to do is transcribe blog posts on the road but I have not found a useful app to do that. Yet. I tried Dragon’s app and it does a good job of transcribing the message but does not give me voice controls to email that message, tweet it, save etc. and driving down the road trying to put an email address in to send a message is illegal in California and dumb in any state.

Apps and Folders

I found that any app I want to run on the road should be on the top page of my iPhone and should not be in a folder. The folder icons are too small to be looking at while I am driving down the road.

The Future

What I have not found yet:

  • an app to easily do transcription and twitter it or email it
  • an app to read me my emails or twitters. I have seen some but have not found the one I want yet
  • a way to add voice memos directly to my todo app (Things)

What do you want?

Share this:

by Chris Christensen

I am the host of the Amateur Traveler. The Amateur Traveler is an online travel show that focuses primarily on travel destinations and what are the best places to travel to. It includes both a weekly audio podcast, a video podcast, and a blog.

Leave a Reply

Tags: ,