Telephone-Computer Integration Made Easier
by Gordon Meyer
Related link: http://www.parliant.com/
For the last few days I've been completely enthralled with the latest version of Phone Valet from Parliant. I've been using Phone Valet with my home automation system for some time now, and I've grown to depend on its ability to announce calls when I'm at home, and automatically forward Caller ID information to my cell phone's email account when I'm away.
The latest update adds some long wished-for capabilities, plus some surprises. The new Phone Valet hardwre lets you completely replace your voice mail or answering machine with an intelligent Mac-based solution. It's nicely integrated too, with thoughtful touches scattered throughout. It's clear that Parliant is taking customer feedback seriously; they've made it much easier to see a list of the newest calls you've received, and optional menubar extra now blends in nicely with those from Apple.
Home automation enthusiasts will be especially pleased with its ability to offer remote control of your computer, and hence your home, simply by dialing in and pressing buttons that launch AppleScript automations. For example, if the weather is particularly warm, you could call home and turn up the air conditioning so the house is comfortably chilled before you arrive. Doing this is as simple as writing an AppleScript that tells XTension or Indigo, to send the appropriate commands to your X10-controlled thermostat.
if you already have a Phone Valet, you'll need to upgrade the hardware to get the new recording capabilities. But otherwise the software update, which is free, is well worth your time. For me, the best new feature for existing units is the ability run an AppleScript when any phone in your house is taken off-hook. I have my home automation system make announcements with text-to-speech, and now I can temporarily silence it when someone is on the phone. Sweet. It was snap to set up by adapting a script that comes with the update. That script automatically mutes iTunes when you pick up your phone. If you have an AirPort Express, imagine how nice that would be!
And Parliant hasn't missed the boat on taking advantage of the white-hot iPod. The phone calls and messages that you record with Phone Valet can be automatically added to iTunes, and copied to your iPod. This could be very handy if you need to review or transcribe calls later, or just want to let your friends listen to your latest reading from the Psychic Hotline.
Telephone and computer integration is one of those things that many people scoff at, thinking "why would I want to do that?", but Phone Valet has just moved the whole concept a little more towards the mainstream with a product that not only makes it approachable, but useful too. If you're at all interested in this sort of thing, it's well worth checking out.
Isn't it time that your phone and computer got introduced to each other?
Best gadget since TiVo
Enjoyed your article, and I too love Phone Valet, not for the reasons you mentioned, though they are cool, but because of the very fundamentally useful things it does (listed below).
Also check out Ovolab Phlink at http://www.ovolab.com/phlink/ - in fact it started emailing voicemail much earlier than PhoneValet!
And, especially if you want to build sophisticated phone trees or interactive phone systems, it's much more flexible than PhoneValet due to its greater and better scriptability.