It's pretty rare that we get to talk about Google's text-to-speech engine. Updates are fairly uncommon and most of them can be summarized as bug fixes and performance improvements. But every once in a while there's an update that brings a pretty cool new feature to this workhorse of an app. Version 3.8 adds one of the top requests to speech output: user selectable gender and voice variations for each language.
Left: previous version (v3.7). Center + Right: latest versions (v3.8).
As of version 3.8, each language's voice packs now offer a default voice (usually female) or one of six other variations split between male and female.
Google has found ways of letting us send text messages, perform search queries, and launch apps using our voice. Some of this functionality has made its way over to the desktop, such as asking Google questions. Starting now, if you open a tab to Google Docs, you can also write out documents.
Typing on a mobile device sucks. Various third-party keyboards have come up with various ways to get around this issue. With Dragon Anywhere, developer Nuance is bringing an entirely different approach to Android. You will simply dictate using your voice, and with any luck, it will actually work as expected.
Amazon probably isn't the first company that comes to mind when you think of innovative gadgets. Not anymore, anyway. Hearing a company is producing a ho-hum smartphone based on Android isn't nearly as exciting as hearing about the Kindle for the first time. But with the Echo, the online retailer does have a cool piece of tech on its hands.
The Echo, which recently became available for general purchase in the US, is essentially what you get when you stick Google Now or Siri into a plastic tube. While that may not sound all that creative, delivery is everything. Saying OK Alexa (the name of the persona inside the device) out in the middle of the kitchen and having the product pick up from another room is rather impressive, especially when you just want to fire up some background music or search for a recipe.
Remember that "Voice Access" talk that was supposed to happen at I/O but was removed from the schedule? It turns out that, while it wasn't the full-on in-app voice craziness we had hoped for, Google did have some news about voice interactions to share.
Specifically, with Android M, Google has introduced the Voice Interaction API, which will allow apps to get a better handle on a user's voice-initiated requests. Check out the video below, by the leaders of a sandbox talk at I/O about voice actions.
The new API, as Google Search Developer Advocate Jarek Wilkiewicz explains, shouldn't be confused with custom voice actions.
A few days ago, we wrote about Google's new My Account interface, which had its material design debut coinciding with Google I/O. The new interface makes checking and adjusting your security and privacy settings both beautiful and easy.
The My Account page wasn't the only account management tool that got some material love though - Google's account history interface has also received a facelift. The account history page now ties together all your history from various Google services - history is broken into Web & App, Voice & Audio, Device info, Location, YouTube Watch, and YouTube Search, along with a general heading to turn on or off history for each of the above sections.
Google isn't the only word that can follow OK. SoundHound has developed a voice assistant of its own, and while the project is still in invite-only beta, the newly available app is clearly going after Google Now. From the moment you utter the words OK Hound, you know you're in for something similar, but different.
SoundHound thinks Hound is special due to its ability to better understand speech. The assistant responds to naturally phrased questions and can handle detailed inquiries. The example in the provided screenshots shows Hound responding to: "Show me hotels in miami with availability monday staying three nights between one hundred fifty to two hundred fifty dollars that have a pool and are pet friendly."
The provided results, if accurate, are more informative than the general search Google dishes out.
Touchscreens are okay, but what about putting those pipes to better use? The description of one of Google's talks at I/O later this month points to an interesting new feature called Voice Access. Basically, instead of touching the phone, you talk to it to control apps. So essentially Star Trek? That'd be rad.
You've already got Google voice commands, but what about something with a little more personality? Microsoft has got you covered, or rather, it will in a few weeks. Redmond is working on a version of its Cortana virtual assistant app for Android.
Update Wednesday has come and gone, but most of what we've seen can be described as bug fixes and relatively minor adjustments – not that we aren't happy with improvements of any kind. Google just set loose Maps 9.6, and like most of the other apps, the changes are mostly about fine-tuning. This version slightly improves the visibility of Zagat reviews and adds an option to determine if the voice should play over speakers or Bluetooth during turn-by-navigation.