Google's developers took a couple of weeks off for the holidays – or from my perspective, they gave me a couple of weeks to rest – but now they're back and it's time for the app updates to resume. Naturally, it's time to breathe life back into the teardowns, and we're back with a big one. Google Search v4.1 began rolling out to users yesterday, and we've already seen quite a few little adjustments and improvements.
It's nowhere near Valentine's day but Google is feeling the love. Maybe it wants to help you find that special person before New Year's Eve so you have someone to kiss at midnight, or maybe it's just setting you up for a healthy relationship in preparation for February 14th, but regardless of the reason, Google Search now responds to the command, "Give me a love quote." Try it and out pops a card with a random famous quote about love.
"OK Google, what is Microsoft Garage?" Well, Rita, it's an idea incubator for Microsoft employees who like to dabble with things non-Microsofty in their spare time, like Android for example. They have a crush on us, but they still can't completely deny their allegiance to the quad colors of Redmond so they indulge by mixing in some Bing bangy bongiddy features. "Ah, thanks Google. Can you give me an example?" Sure Rita, that Bing Torque app they just released, though if you ask me, they need a copy editor for their Play Store listing: "It is like to have Microsoft’s Cortana running on your smart watch." That was a direct quote and it is like to read a torturous story for me.
"OK Google" is a phrase that gets spoken around my house several times a day. So much, in fact, it's the first thing my two year old says when he picks up a phone. He looks at it, holds it close to his mouth, and out it comes...even if it's an iPhone. He makes me proud.
But I digress, this is about Google's new ads. I personally have grown to rely on Google Now and voice recognition for most things, and Google is trying to get everyone else on that train, as well (come on in guys, there's plenty of room).
Last week, Google pushed out an update for Google Search, bringing the version number up to 3.6.13. While it added support for deep linking into apps and a few more of the bits to make hands-free operation a little more convenient, most people probably felt like they didn't get too much out of this update. As it turns out, we found one more addition that might interest a few more people.
It seems like it's hard to find a non-Nexus device that uses anything close to stock Android. Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony, Asus, Acer - everywhere you look there are customizations to a greater or lesser extent. Even Motorola, formerly Google's own subsidiary, uses a custom launcher. Chinese manufacturer ZTE is looking to break that trend, however. The company is planning to launch new smartphones that use the Google Now Launcher (AKA the Google Experience Launcher) by default.
A fair number of you have probably used the ridiculously simple (and bizarre) workaround to get Okay Google Everywhere working on your device without waiting for Google, but there's a catch. If you turn on the lock screen functionality, it makes your phone a little less secure.
Not only is Google announcing all sorts of stuff today, but it's also updating a slew of its apps (it is Update Wednesday, after all). Today's Google Search update brings a huge improvement: "OK Google" hotword detection to any screen... even the lockscreen. If you're plugged into a charger, the feature will even work with the display off. This lines up with the earlier rumor that it was coming eventually.
Once enabled (Google Now > Settings > Voice > "Ok Google Detection"), you'll have to enable Audio History and say the words three time in order for Now to register your voice – much like setting up the hotword detection on the Moto X and recent Droid devices.
It looks like the "OK, Google" search hotword has now become a standard feature for advanced Android launchers. Nova Launcher added the search function in its 3.0 update earlier this month, and now its biggest competitor, Apex, has followed suit. Users who are on Android 4.4 can enable the voice-activated search function in Apex Launcher 2.4. Earlier versions, sadly, cannot access the functionality - you'll have to search with your fingers like some kind of sad troglodyte.
Action Launcher developer Chris Lacy has rolled into the latest beta a feature that just appeared in Nova Launcher two days ago. After signing up for the beta and getting everything good to go, just hop over into the app's settings to toggle the feature on. From then on, you can say "OK Google" from the homescreen to have it pull up a Google search a la the Google Now Launcher.