Today at a press event at its San Francisco office, Google unveiled Voice Actions for Android, an evolved and more intuitive way to search for information on a mobile device.
Of course this includes Web search, like Google’s voice search on the iPhone. But these new features (Android 2.2) have a much broader reach. Phone numbers, business names, songs, calendar items and a host of content — both locally and in the cloud — can be accessed with voice commands (full list here and video after the jump).
Google also demonstrated the improving quality of its speech-to-text processing with demos of e-mails and text messages that were prompted, completed and sent, all using voice. Of course this happened within the indoor confines of a demo setup, but it’s nonetheless an important step forward for voice.
All Coming Together
Generally, voice search will continue to grow, as we examined in a recent report. Google’s continued development and Apple’s acquisition of Siri are also indicative of the levels of investment and innovation happening. Putting things in terms of Apple and Google is also relevant for another aspect of voice: apps vs. mobile Web.
In this ongoing debate over which offers a better development choice for mobile publishers, Apple is pushing for an app-centric world while Google — motivated by its core search business — wants a world where the browser is the front door to connected mobile experiences.
In this light, voice search could be a boon for the mobile Web camp. One of the things preventing mobile Web growth is the degree of finger tapping required to navigate to mobile Web sites. This is contrasted with the navigability and pretty packaging of single-purpose apps.
But the point is, voice search will make Web browsing a lot more intuitive and bring it to times, places and users (read: mainstream) where typing on a tiny screen doesn’t fly. Of course some of these new voice actions have nothing to do with Web search and some even tie into apps like navigation or music (i.e., Pandora).
But getting users broadly accustomed to voice pushes the ball forward for Google’s efforts for more intuitive search inputs. This again is supportive of efforts to create a more browser-based mobile universe that’s reliant on search — rather than apps — as the “front door.”
All this wasn’t explicated today but immediately apparent is how it fits in with Google’s grand scheme. Google Director of Product Management Hugo Barra also espoused cloud computing (versus locally stored content and data) as a driver.
A chart showed how smartphones trend roughly 10 years behind PCs in computing power. But wireless connectivity and computing infrastructure in the cloud will accelerate this. All things cloud ties back to its strategy of less dependence on locally stored content.
Another notable, and surprisingly high figure buried in his presentation: 25 percent of queries on Android devices use voice search. That’s pretty high … and it will only go higher.