Google Announces Voice Actions for Android Phones

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Google unveiled a powerful new feature for the Android platform Thursday, Voice Actions. As the name implies, Voice Actions allow Android users to control many features of their smartphone with their voice, dictate text messages and e-mails, call businesses that Google can find, and even find music.

In the YouTube video below, the company demonstrates these features, but the key thing we want to emphasize is that Google has implemented a way to use Voice Actions not just for the features and content that are on your phone, but things that Google can find.

For instance, Apple’s iPhone allows users to call contacts with voice commands, but Voice Actions will go and search for a business through Google Maps, find the phone number, and then make the call for you. Such a feature won’t always be accurate, of course, but it’s a killer feature.

The same goes for music, with Voice Actions allows users to say “Listen to The Decemberists.” The service will then find The Decemberists online and play them through whatever apps will support it (Pandora, Last.fm, etc.).

The demo also includes examples of dictating e-mails and text messages, find images, and more.

Voice Actions are limited to Android phones that run Android 2.2 and later, and the company said it is shipping on Droid 2 models.

Google Voice Actions Promo Video

Thanks to TechCrunch for the heads up on the video.

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16 Comments Leave Your Own

Bryan Chaffin

These are IMPRESSIVE demos! I am so glad that Google is capable of pushing the envelope in this business, pushing Apple along the way.

This is SciFi stuff, IMO.

geoduck

The best part is that it appears to be smart enough to not need to have…you…talk…very…deliberately. It looks like it can figure out meaning rather than just verbatim transcribe. If that works half as well as the demo it’s impressive. Quite right Bryan SciFi stuff.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Downloaded, installed, and played with. Very cool stuff. I’ve been dictating texts all day. Much snappier than the old microphone input that you can access from the keyboard.

But I am more impressed with Gesture Search. I could probably use it safely while driving. I have changed to using it instead of whirling through contacts. One click and draw three letters with finger and I’ve got the person I want.

Bryan, I owe you an essay on iPad and the whole widget. But this stuff is why Android is leaving iOS in a niche. Your thermostat and your picture frames will be taking voice and gesture input a year from now, just like my N1 does today.

Tiger

ok, that website completely hijacked my browser. It took clicking 12 times to go back OUT of it.

I wanted to see if the voice control was good enough to recognize accents, foreign languages, etc. I’d love to see how it handles Scottish brogue and a North Georgia accent!

BurmaYank

My best friend has always said this (amazing) capability is her most important feature a smartphone must have.  Now that this has come out, I’ll be waiting to see if she will abandon her iPhone in favor of a ‘Droid! 

How close to this capability can an iPhone come at this point?

In case I can’t convince her not to, I’m curious which ‘Droid you folks might advise someone like her to replace her iPhone with (and why).

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

@Tiger… Language options in app:

* Deafult - English (US)
* English (US)
* English (Canada)
* English (UK)
* English (Australia)
* English (New Zealand)
* English (India)
* English (Generic)
* Chinese, Mandarin (China, Simplified)
* Chinese, Mandarin (Taiwan, Traditional)
* Japanese (Japan)
* German (Germany)
* Spanish (Spain)
* French (France)
* Italian (Italy)
* Korean (South Korea)

Trained by GOOG-411… Not sure how anyone is going to match that training dataset.

@BurmaYank: Just tell her to get one she likes that has FroYo or will have it by end of summer. Droid 2 is sweet, if you like a keyboard. N1 is still sweet if you’re on T-Mo or AT&T and have $550 to burn.

But it’s a lot like buying a Windows computer. Get one you like. Strip away any crapware and it’s the same PC underneath regardless of brand.

Nemo

Leaving iOS in a niche?  Hardly.  Apple and Google each have their innovative priorities.  With the iPhone 4, Apple introduced the Retina Display, movie editing, folder for apps, and less we forget was the first to introduce Voice Control on a smartphone.  I imagine that we are only one or two upgrades away from Apple enhancing it Voice Control feature, and it will be costless software upgrade.

Bryan Chaffin

Bryan, I owe you an essay on iPad and the whole widget. But this stuff is why Android is leaving iOS in a niche.

Just concentrate on speaking praise of The Whole Widget for now, and wait for crowing about iOS being left in a niche when it actually happens. smile

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Here’s the thing… Eric Schmidt didn’t have his hands meddling in either the Voice Actions or the Gesture Search. The latter was one of those side projects that Google engineers are encouraged to do. Spontaneous and unplanned until it caught someone’s eye. And it came out incredibly cool.

Also, while Google plows forward in terms of number of partners, number of handsets, expanding the range of devices, shipping Android handsets, etc., Apple is stuck in giant sinkhole of stupid. Really, I used to care about these App Store rejections a lot. Now all I can do is feel bad for the developers who spent a lot more time writing these apps with Apple’s crappy native tools than they should have.

Nemo… Apple will never, ever, ever have a database of voices the size of Google’s. All the obvious cheap ways of training them have been done. If you think about it really hard, you’ll realize that both these apps reveal Google’s phone strategy as an extension of search. It’s not just recognizing words, but putting them together in some context. So I just spoke into my N1 that I wanted to navigate to Red Robin in Costa Mesa, and it figured out that I means Red Robin in Santa Ana (because that’s where it really is). Google has the databases to figure that out. Apple doesn’t.

Nemo

Apple technology on voice recognition goes back to the ill-fated Newton.  There is nothing in terms of IP, features, or experience that Apple lacks, when it come to voice recognition.

However, you do have an interesting point about Google’s databases.  That has two answers, one speculative and the other legal.  With respect to databases that can offer similar, if not superior, services to those that Google introduced toady, Apple has in store, I think, a few surprises that it will shortly reveal.  But if Google does have an essential facility in its databases that it is using to hinder competition in the market for smartphones, the law has a ready answer.  First, it is an actionable violation of antitrust law to use one’s position in one market, search, to hinder competition in another market, smartphones.  That would proceed under either a Sherman and/or Clayton restraint of trade action.  But the Essential Facilities doctrine would perhaps also be available to Apple, whereby a U.S. District Court has authority to force a fair and reasonable license to the extent that is necessary to provide for viable competition.  And the EC is even more vigorous in dealing with restraint of trade, where a party leverages its position or technology to restrain trade.

So stay tuned.

Jamie

I have to agree, they just laid some serious smack down. And I hate to, but I agree with Bosco-regardless of any of the philosophical arguments around any of this, as the Android user base continues to explode, developers will get more and more weary of Apple’s refusal to budge in so many areas, and Apple needs them. Niche might be a little extreme, but they may very well lose the crown again. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Ethan

I doubt Apple will be able to do ANYTHING in legal terms to Google’s DB source. Google has just as many lawyers and will tie Apple up for years. Also Apple’s stance with their control issues and the fact they are making good profits will get them zero sympathy. If they are making all this money and selling all these units-where is the damage to competition? They’d need to show that Android is whiping out all other smartphones.

Now maybe Google will be open to sharing if Apple lets AdMob back in plus other perks. Otherwise Apple needs to go build it themselves or wait for the legal process to run it’s course.

Bryan Chaffin

Apple doesn’t need a crown, Jamie, they need the profitable end of the market. It’s when, not if, Android gets bigger iPhone (and it doesn’t matter).

Developers will continue to make more money with Apple than with Android, and I suspect that would remain the same were Android to take twice the market share of iPhone. That will keep us all rolling in apps.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Nemo, I can’t wait until Apple has to either sue or rely on the DOJ/FTC or EU to sue Google to make its services available on Apple’s phone. That will be high entertainment. Remember Google Voice grin.

The perception for Q3, 2010 is that Apple has apps and content, while Android has search. In actuality, Google has all the content too, and has a much lower friction path for apps. There is tremendous friction preventing the search that Google can do getting onto iPhone. Apple is defending territory, while Google is attacking. The half-life of Apple’s user base is quite high, but the market is still growing, which means that Google will continue to extend its lead. And that will change the perceptions about content and apps, probably by the end of Q4, 2010.

Tiger

And the world does a double-take as Google has just been sued by….ORACLE for stealing whole sections of code of Java for use in its mobile platform Android.

Remember the bad remake of Clash of the Titans last year? This year, it plays out for real.

Let’s see, on one side you have:

Steal code, claim it’s your own. Face lawsuit.
Your platform gains user base…because your partners are giving away their phones 2 for 1.

On another side: A tight-fisted iron-clad grip (which ticks off some people), investigations for anticompetitiveness due to blocking some development coding techniques.

And then there’s RIM. WTH is up with them? They seem addicted to a trackball and skinny keyboards while the rest of the world abandons them for newer and IMHO techy-er sollutions. And too boot, they announce a new product that they proudly call BlackPad. Who’s going to do their marketing, John Shaft?

Really, could we make this stuff up? Reality is truly stranger than fiction.

Nemo

While it is true that the wheels of justice turn inexorably, they often do turn slowly.  However, they can at time go surprisingly fast.  Take, for example, the FTC’s settlement with Intel.  I thought that case would take years but was settled favorable for the FTC in less than a year.  A case involving Apple and Google would take at a minimum, I think, two years, but two to three years would be quick enough, especially when you consider that Apple has several nonjudicial solutions at its disposal.

To begin with Google does not have all the content.  What it has is an index for a lot of the content, and a damn good one.  But Google’s index is not the only one.  Other good indexes that would be sufficient to Apple’s needs are available or can be developed.  And of the twelve services that Google’s Voice Actions presented yesterday, only four leveraged Google’s databases, and of those, only one, Search, would be even slightly problematic for Apple to duplicate.

So yes Google has won a skirmish—and thank goodness for that, because it has loss so many battles—but Apple has an excellent hand to play, and the game continues.

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