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Sunday, February 25, 2024

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Live Blog: Google Announces "Voice Actions" & "Chrome-To-Phone" For Android

Google’s having an impromptu small press “gathering” today at its offices in San Francisco. Topic? “Cool new mobile features.” Want to know more? Stay tuned, as I’ll be live blogging the event that begins at 10am.

This is all we know so far:

We’ll be unveiling a couple of cool new mobile features at the event, and Google mobile product management director Hugo Barra will be on hand to help demonstrate the features and answer your questions.

There’s plenty of speculation you’ll find over at Techmeme. Well know soon enough. Coverage begins below at 10am Pacific.

And we’re off. Mike Nelson from Google PR is telling us this will be like a “Show & Tell” with demos. And here comes Hugo…

Hugo is responsible for mobile applications and services. Two new products … but before he tells us, time for some reflection on the evolution of mobile computing. Joy.

A slide, showing millions of instructions per section (MIPS). Mobile smart phone today has computing of what some computers just in the near past (think he said).

What will happen in future, will smartphones get as smart as computers. Might not matter. Wireless connectivity might be more important.

Put a 4G phone and connect with a cloud computing structure and suddenly the MIPS kind of don’t matter. Get it. The cloud is great. All hail the cloud. We’ve got, he argues, “mini super computers in our pocket.”

Now we can do things not possible. The computing happens in the cloud. Google Goggles, the computer vision application that lets you search by taking pictures (it’s pretty amazing, by the way).

Navigation is another example. Cloud-based GPS. Phone sends the location data, Google sends the nav (which usually works well, but last week kept me going in a U-turn. It was weird).

Voice recognition is another example. Almost two years since first voice app lauched. Showing us how it works by speaking a query, which it gets correctly. And another one, that was recognized correctly. His voice goes in real time to data centers, then answer sent back to the device.

Just added a bunch of languages. Warns this is risky. Has four devices, going to say query in Spanish in one, French in another, Italian in another and then Japanese. And it works!

Already does German, two dialects of Chinese, Korean, goal is to support every language out there. 1 out of every 4 queries from Android devices is by voice. 25% of search traffic from Android devices is from voice, higher than they ever expected.

And first announcement, wouldn’t it be great to do a task in one go.

He speaks to send a text to the phone, and it does it. “Voice Action” and there are a whole bunch of them in the new voice search application in Android, avaialble today. Hmm, sounds like Google’s going after the potential threat that Apple has when they bought the Siri task application

Now Mike LeBeau comes up to do more demos, sorry, didn’t catch his name. He speaks to call a bakery, and it does. “I can say the name of any business I want, and it will call.” Now we’re calling London, to say hi to the Queen. No, some business out there. And it’s really, really fast. Like much faster than calling 411.

Voice Actions works with Google Nav. He says navigate to Rockefeller Plaza. Boom, we’re navigating.

Also ability to find and play music on your phone. It goes out online to find. Say any music you want, then any number of apps try. He says listen to Decemberists. Gets lists of apps like Pandora. Now it’s making a Pandora station on the phone automatically. Cool.

But we’re not done. You can send a complete email.

Now he’s speaking a complicated email, and there it is. I’m waiting for him to go “Computer, On” like Scotty. You know. Star Trek IV. Go rent it.

Now he’s saying to set the alarm for 8:30am. There it goes. And I’m picturing the aimless crowds of people walking down streets with their heads stuck in their phones now enhanced by leaning in and talking to them

Now he’s doing a map search. Getting directions and so on.

And he’s doing “Note to self” which will send email to you. Um, I wish it would make real notes. I have enough email.

And more, you can speak to have a contact looked up and called.

Hugo back, it’s available today, if you have Android 2.2. Search for voice search in the Android Market.

By the way, Google has a post up now with more about Voice Actions here. Voice Actions are only for US English.

And on to the second announcement. Dave Burke, an engineering manager coming up to tell us more about something he build in his “20%” time Google allows for personal products.

Chrome To Phone, bridge gap from desktop to mobile. A Chrome extension and today availalble widely to Chrome and Android users. Search from Chrome to Phone on Chrome extension gallery, then do the same in the Android Market.

Say reading an article, click on the mobile phone icon in your browser, link gets sent to the device.

Google Maps, say searched for hotel, want to push address to phone, highlight mobile phone icon, then directions sent to Google Maps on your phone.

Now doing a business search, highlights number on the web search in the browser and sends it to your phone, which is ready to call. Which as I think about it, would be kind of cool.

And that’s it.

One last thing, gifts for everyone in the audience, Droid 2 devices. Hurray! My collection grows 🙂

Oh, and Google has post up about Chrome For Phone out now here.

Question Time

Question: How well’s this stuff work in real life, as opposed to demos. Dave says well.

Question: Is Chrome to Phone stuff bookmarked for future use? Dave says it depends on the app, looking at adding a centralized version in the future.

Question on what Google picks from list of results. Google says selects top editorial listing, not the first ad that appears.

Question (from me): How many voice actions are there, and how’s that compare to Siri. Hugo says 12 voice actions plus ability to search, so 13. Not sure how it stacks up against Siri. Believes it might have a wider range of actions than Siri but not sure.

Question: Work on any phone or is the mic an issue for some. Answer, mic can have impact but thinks most shouldn’t have a problem. They also have a set of tools and compatability checks they do.

Question: How big will voice search become. Dave says multimodal, you wouldn’t use voice in a library or a rock concert. But you wouldn’t want to expend in other places. Thinks they both will always coexist.

Question: Google has voice search on the iPhone in its app, right? What’s the activity like there. There’s a significant difference see when it’s handy to do voice search. Can’t comment and tell specifics on how much voice search happens on iPhone, where Google also offfers voice search, but only within its app. But he confirms my suspicion that it’s lower.

And that’s it, all done.

Postscript: I talked with Fernando Delgado, a product manager with Google Voice Search, after the event with some follow-up questions:

In some instances, Google Voice Search pulls out the top “free” listings that you’d see in doing a web search. That omits advertisers from appearing in some of the related displays. An issue? Delgado said largely no, that things are still developing to the degree that this isn’t currently an issue.

How do you get Voice Actions? You have to have an Android 2.2 device, first and foremost. Some Android phones out there aren’t running the latest version of the OS, so it’s up to the carriers and whether they’ve pushed it out.

Assuming you have it already, chances are you’ll still need to go to the Android Market and download Voice Search in order to upgrade the existing version on Android 2.2 to the features introduced today. If you have a brand new Android 2.2 phone, like the Verizon Droid 2, you don’t need to. Future updates of Android 2.2 and beyond will include this, so downloading the app is mainly a way to get existing 2.2 users up to speed.

Will voice actions come to the iPhone, via the Google Voice Search integration within the Google app? Potentially it could, but not immediately, and this is hard to do. Apparently the Apple developer tools make it harder for third-party developers to get the device to perform certain actions.

You might also have to download new applications that are Voice Action enabled. For example, Jason Kincaid from TechCrunch couldn’t initially get Pandora to work. He had an older version, as it turned out, that needed to be updated.

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