Google expands Voice Search with new actions

Users with Android 2.2 phones can send text messages and e-mail verbally

Google on Thursday introduced a tool for easily sending links from its Chrome browser on a PC to an Android phone, and added 12 more voice-activated actions to the Voice Search tool in Android 2.2.

The company unveiled the new software at an event at its San Francisco offices. The new tools take advantage of cloud computing, which dramatically expands the computing power of mobile phones with the help of faster and more responsive wireless networks, Google said.

"These devices are rapidly becoming mini-supercomputers in your pocket," said Hugo Barra, director of product management at Google Mobile. Because it effectively boosts the processing power of a phone from 1,000 MIPS (million instructions per second) to 2 billion MIPS, cloud computing is changing the way Google designs mobile software, he said.

The Chrome to Phone extension to Google's browser adds a phone icon to the browser and uses an Android application. Users can click on that icon to send a URL, Google Map result or other content from the browser to an Android phone. Third parties are also working on similar plug-ins for other browsers, including Firefox, Google said. Chrome to Phone is only for Android 2.2.

With the extensions to Voice Search, users will be able to send SMS (Short Message Service) messages and e-mail addresses to their contacts by clicking a button, speaking a command and the recipient's name, and speaking the message. Words that the software is not sure of appear in bold blue and can be clicked on to view alternate choices. Other new extensions to Voice Search include the ability to verbally ask for Google Maps directions, request a URL, or send a note to yourself via a designated e-mail address.

The new capabilities currently are available only for U.S. English. Android 2.2 is out now for the Motorola Droid 2 and Google's Nexus One handset, and is being rolled out to the HTC Evo 4G and original Droid. The company detailed the new Voice Search actions in a blog post.

Other actions announced for Voice Search include setting an alarm on the clock's phone, searching for images and asking for a certain kind of music. For music, the user can say "Listen to ..." and the name of an artist, album or song. The software will show all the applications on the phone that could find and play that song, and let the user choose which to use, said Senior Software Engineer Mike LeBeau.

The extended voice capabilities can also make it easier to call a business. If the caller says "Call ..." and the name of a business that the software can positively identify, Voice Search will find the business' Web entry and drill down to its phone number, then dial it automatically, LeBeau said.

Google intends to make the Voice Search actions available for all platforms, but it would require workarounds to make them work for some other types of phones, such as the Apple iPhone, LeBeau said. For example, the actions take advantage of "intent" commands in Android.

"It's probably, on Android, the easiest, but there are definitely tricks to play everywhere," LeBeau said.

In Chrome to Phone, once a Web link has been sent from the PC to the handset, the user can bookmark it on the phone browser. In the case of Google Maps, it activates the Google Maps application on the phone. Users can save the destination by marking it with a star. Google is working on a specialized history view to show specifically the items that have been sent to the phone over Chrome to Phone. For documents in a Google Documents account, a user can send the phone a link to the Documents account for mobile access to the content.

For now, there is no Phone to Chrome mechanism, though users have requested that, said Dave Burke, a technical lead in Google's Mobile Engineering group.

Google has focused on voice-activated capabilities in its push for greater mobile Internet use. Its speech-recognition team processes billions of entries into the Google.com search engine to better predict what request a speaker may be making, and the system's accuracy is about 70 percent, according to Google. One in four searches on Android 2.0 phones are made through Voice Search, Barra said.

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