During my typical work day, my iPhone 5 is sitting on my desk next to my MacBook Air or iPad, usually locked as I’m focusing on writing or researching topics for MacStories. I don’t receive many phone calls, and when I do I don’t mind picking up my phone and using it for the task that phones were made for in the first place (remember when people used to buy phones to make phone calls?). Dialogue, a new Mac app released today on the Mac App Store, wants to remove the annoyance that some people have with switching devices when a phone call comes in; at $6.99, Dialogue uses Bluetooth to route phone calls through your Mac – employing an unobtrusive menubar popover to find contacts and manage connected devices.
Hands-free calling through a Mac isn’t a new app idea per se, but I found Dialogue’s implementation to be clean and intuitive. Once launched for the first time, the app will show a phone icon in the menubar, which you can click to open a popover that displays a search bar and a Connect button. The search bar allows you to look for a contact in your Address Book – which will require you to grant Dialogue permission to access your contacts on Mountain Lion. Essentially, Dialogue can become the microphone and speaker of your iPhone for phone calls – hence the app will need access to a Bluetooth connection to pair with your device and your contact list, where it’ll find phone numbers to call (through the iPhone).
I tested Dialogue with my iPhone 5 running iOS 7 (beta 4) and another iPhone 5 running iOS 6. Both iPhones had been previously paired with my MacBook Air (mid–2011), and when I started using Dialogue I only needed to turn on my Mac’s Bluetooth again for the app to recognize and connect to the previously-paired devices. The setup process was painless; if you’ve never paired your iPhone and your Mac, however, you’ll need to go through some additional steps (with the Mac’s Bluetooth preference pane) for the initial connection. As for contacts, my setup was facilitated by the fact that all my devices sync with iCloud, so the app was able to fetch contact names and phone numbers in seconds. The app can’t fetch phone numbers directly from your iPhone via Bluetooth, which may be a problem for users who intend to use Dialogue on work machines where they can’t add their personal iCloud accounts for contact syncing.
Dialogue can call phone numbers found in your Address Book, but you can also type a new one (that you don’t have in your contacts) and Dialogue will start a phone call. The menubar popover gets the job done, but it could use some refinements in regard to text selection and keyboard shortcuts. For instance, while you can start typing and use your arrow keys to navigate results and go back to the text field, you can’t hit ⌘A to select text you’ve entered and delete it; when moving back and forth between the text field and the contact list, my selection got “stuck” on a few occasions, forcing me to dismiss the popover and open it again. The most jarring omission in my opinion, though, is the lack of a keyboard shortcut to bring up the app – Dialogue has no preference beside choosing to open the app at login and automatically reconnecting an iPhone everytime it’s rediscovered via Bluetooth.
Phone calls come in and go out with a tiny popup that contains buttons to accept/decline, end call, and record. Recordings are saved as .m4a files in the Finder, and, as you’d imagine, quality of your voice depends on the input you’re using on OS X, whereas quality of the other end may suffer from cellular coverage and some Bluetooth artifacts.
I took various phone calls with Dialogue, and they all were fairly stable, albeit I noticed some occasional delays in audio (a fraction of a second) and rare drops in quality. I can’t blame these issues on Dialogue, though, as they’re likely related to spotty 3G coverage and Apple’s own implementation of Bluetooth. So, in the end, making and receiving phone calls with Dialogue worked as advertised and I appreciated the simple interface that didn’t bring up a series of ugly buttons and complicated menus (as other handsfree calling solutions do).
At $6.99 on the Mac App Store, I can recommend Dialogue only if you think you’re going to use it for actual phone calls on a daily basis. Setup is easy, the app looks good, and, because it’s Bluetooth audio, you will probably face the same sporadic Bluetooth audio issues of other devices that rely on the technology for OS X and iOS devices. Personally, I was positively impressed by Dialogue’s simplicity and the fact that it works even when a phone is locked, but I’m looking forward to improvements for keyboard navigation and shortcuts.