Google bumps up Android with voice features

16 Aug 2010

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The steady march of the Androids continues and Google has added some more pep to their step with a range of interesting new voice features and a new search widget.

In a post on the official Google Mobile blog Hugo Barra, product management director, and Dave Burke, engineering manager pointed to the fact that our mobile phones have become modern-day Swiss Army knives.

An Android phone, they point out, is a handheld computer, a music player, a notepad, a GPS navigation unit and more, all rolled into one sleek device that fits in your pocket. Today’s phones do so many things for us that sometimes we don’t even think about how we do them.

“Even though our phones do all these new things, the most natural way of interacting with a phone remains what it always has been: speaking. And to that end, we’re pleased to introduce Voice Actions for Android.

“Voice Actions are a series of spoken commands that let you control your phone using your voice. Call businesses and contacts, send texts and email, listen to music, browse the web and complete common tasks, all just by speaking into your phone.”

To use Voice Actions, tap the microphone button on the Google search box on your home screen, or press down for a few seconds on the physical search button on your phone to activate the “Speak Now” screen.

Android users can now speak any of these commands to perform a Voice Action on your phone:

  • send text to [contact] [message]
  • listen to [artist/song/album]
  • call [business]
  • call [contact]
  • send email to [contact] [message]
  • go to [website]
  • note to self [note]
  • navigate to [location/business name]
  • directions to [location/business name]
  • map of [location]

They also revealed Google is releasing an updated version of the Google search widget for Android.

“When you type a local search query, like [italian restaurants] you’ll see suggested restaurants with addresses and ratings. Also, as you type queries, you can refine them further by tapping the pencil icon that appears to the right of search suggestions.”

Both Voice Actions and the new Google search widget require Android 2.2 (Froyo), and will be pre-installed with the new Droid 2 phone from Motorola and Verizon. Voice Actions are currently available for US English speakers.

If you have another phone with Android 2.2 (like the Nexus One, HTC Evo or the original Droid), you’ll need to download several app updates from Android Market to get all the latest goodness:

  • Voice Search (this app includes Voice Actions)
  • Google Search widget
  • music apps (ie Pandora, Last.fm, Rdio, mSpot)
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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com