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Talking to Your Television

Voice control comes to Google TV. You listening, Apple?
November 14, 2012

I’m not one to go gaga over voice search, or the project of voice commands in general. I have yet to see Siri really transform the lives of anyone in my circle of family and friends who use it. I’ve been reluctant to bother experimenting with Dragon Dictation software, suspecting that typing will continue to serve me just fine, thank you.

But with Google TV’s new voice search function, I begin to see a real benefit to voice input. Searching with voice solves several problems I’ve noticed with TV interfaces at once. Google TV’s latest update, including the voice search feature, comes out to LG devices this week, and other devices soon, says Google.

First of all, it should be noted that much of the power vested in voice search comes from Google already having built a strong search product for Google TV. Much of our experience with the modern, fragmented and frankly metastasized world of television is one of wandering, as through a desert. No one wants to click through hundreds of channels, and several different streaming library services. And Google TV’s search feature has mostly solved that problem.

But no one really likes to have a keyboard on their sofa, and search is about entering words. And it’s irritating to type out a word letter by letter using a remote control or, as I have to do with my Xbox, game controller (though voice and gesture control are options for Kinect-emabled Xboxes). Which is where voice search comes in. Want a certain channel? Just say the word–literally. The precious, boring minutes I’ve wasted flipping channels in search of AMC? No more. You can also do weirdly specific searches with Google TV’s new incarnation: “movies with Jeff Bridges,” say, turns up just that. Asking a question about how to body paint yourself will turn up a YouTube instructional video, claims Google TV (in this YouTube video of its own): 

Other features in the new Google TV include a new feature called “PrimeTime,” which makes it easier to find content. Rishi Chandra, the Google TV chief, recently told me that his team was working on a feature that could have your Google search history inform Google TV’s sense of what content you might like–with your permission, of course.

Chandra’s an interesting guy who has thought deeply about the joys and frustrations of internet-assisted TV. Engadget posted an interview with him, in which he goes into more detail on voice search.

We’ve dreamed up a Siri-enabled TV before (see “Could Apple TV Use Siri?”). Could such a product be not so far behind, to keep Apple competitive? For a TV to not only have voice recognition but also some smart AI couldn’t hurt–though I’d probably prefer to not have my TV talk back to me.

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