If talking on a cell phone while driving is naughty, then texting is downright delinquent. While a growing number of states are passing restrictions on the use of cell phones while driving, the dangers of text messaging behind the wheel are getting lots of press. More than 57 percent of American adults who drive and have used text messaging admit to reading or sending text messages from the driver's seat, according to a poll conducted in July by Harris Interactive. About 89 percent of those same people believe the practice should be outlawed or restricted.
Enter a crop of mobile dictation services that act as your virtual assistant when you're on the run. Not only do they help entrepreneurs stay on the right side of the law, but they can boost productivity and help make the most of those precious post-meeting moments when thoughts about follow-up and action items are freshest. You can submit a call report, capture a brainstorming session, report on customer service issues or simply remind yourself to send a thank-you note.
"It's almost a no-brainer," says Moe Abdou, co-founder and managing partner of iEvolution, a San Diego social networking community for entrepreneurs, which brings in sales of $1 million annually. "The other thing is that it is unbelievably accurate."
Abdou, 42, and co-founder Ted McGrath, 30, each travel about 10 days per month and are regular users of the Mobile Scribe voice-to-text service from Copytalk. (The service is $79.95 per month if you sign up on Copytalk's website, Here's how it works: Subscribers are given a password and a phone number, which they can call and dictate thoughts from any phone. A few hours later, a written transcript is sent to them via e-mail or posted on a secure website for retrieval. The Sarasota, Florida-based company destroys transcriptions after 60 days.
For another $10 per month you can opt for Suite Mobility, which includes the transcription service plus an option for retrieving and sending e-mail via your cell phone. Company founder and CEO Mark Famiglio, 49, counts about 40,000 subscribers, which include law-enforcement officials and 85-year-olds who can't be bothered to use e-mail.
Famiglio founded Copytalk in 2000 as a personal mission: He regularly flies between Florida and New York on his private jet. "I was sitting around with friends, and we were talking about notes and writing things down and carrying around five different pieces of equipment to do it," he says. "When you take notes, you forget things."
Virtual Management in Salt Lake City offers two primary services--Electronic Virtual Assistant, or EVA, and E-Max--to help with "mental clutter" on the road, in the words of company founder, chairman and CEO Herb Davis.
"The whole idea, of course, is to accomplish more in [fewer] hours. We give more time back to people," Davis says. "And then there's the whole safety thing. Something like 12 or 13 states have hands-free laws. Some studies say trying to text on your cell phone while driving is like driving with the equivalent of a 0.08 [blood] alcohol level. We think all states will eventually move to hands-free laws. This is a really important safety issue."
Virtual Management's EVA service ($69.95 to $155 per month, depending on usage) works like the Copytalk offering, except Virtual Management also offers an optional USB recording device called EVA's Ear that captures dictation if you're out of cell phone range. (You connect it to your computer later to upload the recording.)
E-Max ($19.95 per month with a 30-day free trial) manages e-mail. It can be configured to call your cell phone automatically when messages arrive from specific individuals and read them by voice, allowing you to reply the same way. Or you can be proactive, creating a "voice e-mail" in any language when the mood or need strikes.