Android 'voice action' launched by Google

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Image caption,
Voice actions is only available in English at the moment

Google hopes its new "voice actions" feature for Android phones will continue to boost sales.

Voice actions enables users to carry out tasks via spoken commands rather than pressing buttons or keys.

Android was the best selling smartphone operating system in the US in the second quarter of 2010, according to research firm Gartner.

At a recent news conference Google claimed to be activating more than 200,000 Android devices a day.

The company believes new capabilities like voice actions will keep it ahead of the game.

"Before it was easy to search the web using voice but people do a lot more than just search the web,'' said product manager Hugo Barra.

"Now you can voice up text messages, e-mail a reminder to yourself, set your alarm clock, get directions, find music, open a map and call places.

"It really is about interacting with the device in the simplest of ways using the voice."

Power of speech

Mr Barra told the BBC that voice actions "represents the most significant progress Google has made in speech recognition ever since we launched voice search about two years ago".

He also revealed that one in four searches done on Android is done using voice search.

Image caption,
The iPhone4 has sold over 3 million handsets since its June launch

News blog SearchEngineLand said such improvements underline how "seriously Google is taking its mobile strategy''.

"One of the amazing stories in all of this is that Android does feel like it has come out of nowhere. Since the beginning of this year there has been an explosion of Android-operated devices," Danny Sullivan, the site's editor-in-chief told BBC News.

"People really thought it was going to be all about the iPhone but now it really does seem to be this two-player match."

Apple has a similar application called Siri which allows users to find restaurant addresses or movie listings with voice commands.

'Screaming problem'

Google also launched another product aimed at making the mobile phone "handier".

"Chrome to phone" allows users to move from the desktop computer to the mobile device by transferring information like websites, driving directions and even phone numbers.

"Chrome to phone is a solution to a screaming problem in our daily lives," said Mr Barra.

Image caption,
Google plans to bring the feature to the iPhone soon

The application was developed by Google engineer Dave Burke during the company's 20% time where employees can work on any project that takes their fancy.

"I wrote most of the code on a flight to Tokyo. During the day I get a lot of interruptions as a manager and don't get as much of a chance to code as I would like so I take advantage anywhere I can.

"Planes are great places to code," he said.

Mr Burke said the product came about because he was trying to solve a common problem.

"I thought why the hell is the desktop detached from my mobile phone. It's crazy.

"These devices have been evolving in parallel worlds and there is a little bit of crossover, like say the iPhone syncing to iTunes, but it's very minimal."

Google's Mr Barra said Android and other phones represent "mobile supercomputing" at its best and that these "mini supercomputers in our pockets are forcing us to change the way we design mobile software".

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