It was almost a year ago that Google posted the session list for I/O 2015 with an interesting "voice access" talk. That was eventually removed from the schedule and we didn't hear anything about it in Android M. Now, Google has announced Voice Actions as a beta in the Play Store (Android 5.0 and higher). Once you join up, you can install the app and literally control your entire phone by voice. It's incredibly cool.
Google employees Natalie Hammeland Lorraine Yurshansky, who go by Nat & Lo for their series of informative Google tour videos, are at it again. This time the pair are demonstrating the recent improvements to Google's Text-To-Speech engine (TTS), which many of our readers have already experienced. Since synthesized, human-style voice functions are part of the biggest new trend in usability and gadgets, it's kind of a big deal.
Google's various flavors of voice control are neat, not to mention extremely useful thanks to deep integration with Android. But Mountain View doesn't have a monopoly on speech interpretation: Microsoft has made a pretty compelling case for its cross-platform Cortana system, to say nothing of the similar entries from Apple and Amazon. SoundHound threw its hat in the ring last year with the semi-proprietary Hound app, though you had to be part of the beta to check it out. Today Hound gets a public launch, and everyone can play with it with no prerequisites.
Google added voice typing to Docs last year, but it was fairly limited. Today, Google is rolling out more features to voice typing in Docs. You now have control over formatting like text selection, punctuation, and copy / paste. While this is not strictly Android, it's pretty close and we think it's cool.
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.
The official changelog has been posted for TTS v3.8. It mentions support for seven new languages, higher quality speech output, faster speech for offline voices, an updated Indian English voice, and the usual bug fixes and performance improvements.
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.