Google Enhances Android Mobile OS With Voice Commands

Google has added two new features to its Android software designed to enhance the utility of smartphones that use the mobile operating system software.

Voice Actions for Android lets users send text and emails, surf the Web and perform other actions using voice commands. This could be particularly handy for time-crunched executives, salespeople and other road warriors who don't have time to futz with their mobile device's touch interface.

The other new release, an extension to the company's Chrome Web browser, lets Chrome users easily send Web pages to an Android device for later viewing.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) said the new Chrome to Phone extension requires the latest 2.2 or "Froyo" version of Android. In a blog post, the search giant said Chrome to Phone provides a simple way to instantly forward maps, YouTube videos, phone number or text to a mobile device.

"Suppose you're reading an interesting article on your favorite news website and need to leave for an urgent appointment. Simply click the extension icon in your browser to send the link to your phone and the device's browser will automatically open the link, ready for you to view on the go," Google engineering manager Dave Burke, said in the company's Google Chrome blog.

Google is in a fierce battle with other browser developers (Microsoft's IE, Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari and others) to attract more users. Chrome to Phone could help Google further distinguish its browser, which has earned a reputation for fast performance, but analyst Ben Bajarin said the main advantage goes to the Android platform.

"They open-sourced it so Firefox or Safari could do their own implementation if they wanted to for Android, but the key thing is that this is for Android devices, not the iPhone or other mobile platforms," Bajarin, analyst with Creative Strategies, told InternetNews.com.

"And as the technology evolves you could imagine them going the other way with something like "phone to Chrome," he added. "The ability to easily send your information or the Web page you're on to other devices is a compelling use case for the Android ecosystem."

Voice Actions

In addition to sending text and email and surfing the Web, Google said Voice Actions can be used to call businesses and contacts or call up a music track via spoken commands instead of using the device's touch interface to navigate to those features.

"We think these new Voice Actions let you do things on your phone faster and easier than ever before," Mike LeBeau, lead engineer for Voice Actions, said in a video introduction to the new features at Google's Mobile Blog.

However, voice recognition features are nothing new to mobile devices.

While Microsoft is in the midst of overhauling its mobile platform with new Windows Phone 7 software due out later this year, the company added a range of voice recognition features over a year ago to its Windows mobile software based from technology it inherited from its purchase of TellMe Networks back in 2007.

But Bajarin said Google's implementation of voice recognition for voice commands is the best he's seen in the mobile market to date. "Google focused on common tasks that are less easy to do on the device with touch, like inputting text," he said. "I also think they are leading the pack in understanding intent, so the system knows, for example, you want to write an email by what you say.

"It's also extremely impressive that Google does all this in the cloud," Bajarin added. "What you say is recognized and processed by Google servers and back to the device in close to real time. Of course, if you're not connected, you're hosed."


David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.



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