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Tom Simonite

A View from Tom Simonite

Software Upgrade Lets Android Phones Take Orders

New voice recognition features for everything from text messaging to music

  • August 12, 2010

I’ve just spent fifteen minutes talking to myself, and if Google’s latest addition to its Android mobile operating system becomes popular it’s a habit that will become a lot more common.

Several core Android apps like its mapping and search tools were already set up for voice input. Newly launched Voice Actions for Android make it possible to use voice commands from the phone’s home screen to do a whole lot more.

Without a button press you can command the phone to compose an email or text message to a contact and dictate its contents. The phone will tap into online directories as well as your address book, making it possible to say “call” and then a name to be connected to a business or person. It’s also possible to request music from an artist or album and to ask for directions or a map of a location.

See the video at the end of this post for a demonstration. If you have a phone with Android 2.2 you can download the new app that brings this power via Google’s blog post on the features.

Like any kind of voice recognition, it feels a little like magic to use when it works. But also like other voice recognition I’ve experienced, it’s disproportionately annoying when it doesn’t. It’s the equivalent of pressing a button with a clearly defined function and having it do the opposite.

Android’s ability to recognize locations when calling up maps seems very reliable to me. But I struggle to get the phone to recognize some of the less common names in my address book. This could be down to Voice Actions being so far only for US English accents, not British ones like mine.

Altogether, though, this seems a further step towards voice recognition becoming something we use everyday. I’ll be interested to see the social adjustments that come with it; people might feel self conscious blurting out commands in public today, but that may be set to change.

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