Smartphone banking and dictation have advanced
Bob's Tech Talk
July 1, 2016
Q. My bank regularly sends email messages encouraging me to download their app. How safe is banking on my phone?
A. Banking on your mobile phone is no more vulnerable than any other sort of bank transaction, and in some ways it is more secure. However, there are a few important things to consider first. Make certain that the application is actually from your bank and not some third party. Never store your password on the phone itself, which could grant anyone else access to your bank account. If your bank supports it, and most do, use two-factor authentication the first time you set up the app. And most important of all, be sure the phone requires at least a 6-digit passcode to unlock.
Once you establish a connection you will be able to check account balances, transfer money, and make payments with just a few taps. You can even make routine check deposits by uploading a photo of the check. I’ve been using these services for years now, which is a much better experience than dialing an 800 number or driving to the bank.
Q. Is there a way to dictate email messages on my smartphone?
A. Smartphones are great for reading messages, less great for writing them. With their tiny keyboards, typing text longer than a sentence can be an exercise in frustration. Fortunately, voice dictation is standard on both Android and iPhone. It is very accurate with later model phones, less than a couple of years old is best. Accessing this feature is almost identical on every device. Tap the microphone icon on the keyboard and begin speaking. Speak naturally, as if you were conversing with a friend. A clear voice with distinct silent spaces between words is helpful, but don’t overthink it. The key is to relax and use natural speech rhythms. For simple punctuation, just say “comma,” “period” or “question mark.” Soon it will become second nature, and before long you’ll be rocketing off paragraphs of text with less effort than typing on a keyboard.
Other voice options exist, digital assistants like Siri on iOS, OK Google on Android, or Cortana on Windows, but starting off with simple dictation is the best way to create longer blocks of text. The virtual digital assistants like Siri are better for tasks that perform an action, rather than taking dictation.
Q. My mother is 78 years old and lives alone. She doesn’t drive, but many of her friends do, plus she gets around town by walking and on public buses. I would like to keep tabs on her location from my iPhone in case of an emergency. Is that possible?
A. Smartphones do a fairly decent job of keeping track of where they are, and in the last couple of years location tracking has become practical. Once you get past the potential creep factor, there are many good reasons to share location information – everything from a day at Disneyland to monitoring at-risk individuals with medical concerns.
The iPhone has the best implementation of this service I have seen, contained in an app called “Find My Friends.” The app allows someone to securely share their location with specific individuals on a case by case basis. The app works sluggishly with iPhone 5s, but it works great with all versions of iPhone 6.
In order to use Find My Friends, your phone has to require a passcode to unlock. You can either share your location with someone, or ask them to share their location with you. Once connected, you will be presented with a map that depicts their location. There are a few other features, like time limits and notifications if the person you’re following leaves a location. The rules of etiquette for these kinds of interactions are evolving, but under specific circumstances the usefulness of location services is undeniable.
A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob has found a way to transform most of his interests into employment opportunities one way or another. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wander the Web
Where in the World Is...?
This service provides location tracking without a cellphone. My niece is traveling to Africa for a month of volunteer work. Needless to say, her safety is on everyone’s mind. This GPS-enabled hardware transmitter sends a message to an orbital satellite that pinpoints her location. It works just about anywhere in the world. It is not inexpensive, but it can be worth the price for peace of mind.
What Time Is It?
This website knows more about time than Einstein. If you want to know the current time in the most far-flung city on earth, this is the place to ask. There are personal clocks, calendars, calculators, date conversions, timers, holiday observances and so much more. You could spend days exploring all the features. Whenever time is of the essence, this is the place I check first. http://www.timeanddate.com
The Plane, the Plane!
The internet has countless services that provide flight tracking. My personal favorite is Flight Aware. The service has apps for mobile devices (they cover them all) and the Web. Personal use is basically free, but there are monthly plans available if you need to regularly track dozens of flights. In addition to real time location tracking, these services are useful for selecting a flight. Before committing to a ticket, search the flight number’s history to get a sense of its on-time performance over the last few months.