Google rolls out voice search for Gmail, Calendar and Google+

Google rolls out voice search for Gmail, Calendar and Google+

Summary: People searching for things such as photos and flights stored in their Google accounts will be able to say, rather than type, what they’re looking for.

TOPICS: Google

Google is rolling out the voice-based search that's been available through Google Now to its other services such as Gmail, Calendar and Google+. 

The feature is being enabled through Google Search, allowing people to ask questions about commonly queried topics, such as "is my flight on time?" and "when will my package arrive?". The main categories people can query using voice include reservations, purchases, plans, and photos. As long as the details are stored in one of the Google services, Google will return formatted responses to a voice query.

Voice search will be available on the desktop through Google's Chrome browser and on tablets and smartphones via the Google Search App for iOS and Android, Google said. However, the service is only being activated for English speakers in the US.

The feature relies on Google's work on contextual voice recognition and its Knowledge Graph, the company’s database of people, places and things that helps deliver results for words with different meanings in a different context.

It also builds on Google's experiment last August, which invited Gmail users to use Search to scour their inbox, Google Drive and Calendar for reservations, receipts and events. Things stored in Gmail, such as airline tickets, are presented in a formatted card.

According to Google product manager Roy Livne, the results are only visible to the user. 

"This information is just for you — secure, via encrypted connection, and visible only to you when you're signed in to Google. Likewise, you can also control whether you want the service on or off," he wrote on the company's blog on Wednesday.

Users can disable the feature for a single session by clicking on the globe icon at the top of the search results or alternatively disable it permanently by through search preferences and clicking on "do not use private results".

Topic: Google

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Google Voice Search and Google Now are...

    a great combination. I use it almost daily now. The latest instance was to check and see if a friend's flight was on time. Google Now audibly told me that the flight from NY to LA was delayed by 16 minutes. I also use it regularly to look up movie showtimes in my area. Much more user friendly than using apps like Fandango, Regal, etc.

    And with the advent of the Moto X, that ability will expand user friendliness to the next level so you could get this info without ever even touching your phone. Sweet!
  • Seductive!

    This search feature, like Apple's Siri (BTW, a late night comic recently reported that North Korea is "making" iPhones now; if you ask Siri a question, the secret police pick you up), gives the ILLUSION of your PHONE recognizing your voice and setting up a search, then generating a voice response. What is actually happening, which we in the tech field know in our heads but may forget, and naive users may not realize, is that our VOICE is being interpreted by a SERVER, which then has a copy of our request; a server searches ITS copy of our files, even if the data ALSO happens to be kept on our phone; and a server generates the response, which is then sent to our phone. That, of course, is why we can only use voice search on files we have "shared" with Google or Apple (in the case of Siri), not on files we are storing only locally.

    So, even though it "feels" that we are making a private search of our "own" data, the fact is that a recording of our voice request, the "text" form of the request and the result, and the digitized voice form of the result, are IN THE VENDOR'S SERVERS. In old-tech terms, we are CALLING INFORMATION; but THIS information "operator" does not forget unless it is programmed to forget, and we all know what has been rumored and/or leaked and/or reluctantly and partially confessed to Congressional hearings, namely that it is probably programmed NOT to forget. Hence the punch line of the North Korean Siri joke, as well as the targeted ads that will follow many requests.

    In addition, since the vendor's servers contain digitized versions of your VOICE, catalogued under your userid and hence under your name, a hacker COULD use the profile of your voice quality to generate ANY statement he/she wishes in YOUR VOICE, which could open up the floodgates of "audioshopping" fake recordings of someone's voice, to be released to the media as politically (or criminally) incriminating telephone calls. And since the voice analysis and synthesis is done by phonemes, it is not limited to the actual words you use in your search; however, the MORE you use the feature, the more data on your voice will be stored, and the more accurate the impersonation will be. Maybe you could stymie such a program by having several voice users share the same account (or asking random strangers to voice each query for you)? Or is the software smart enough to save voice profiles separately for each speaker? And is the synthsized voice only good enough to fool friends, acquaintances and a public audience, or is it good enough to fool VOICEPRINT equipment that might be used in court?

    It might be better to hold off on using voice searches until the technology can be purchased in a completely OFFLINE device. Of course, expect to pay a lot more for that, because of (1) the R&D needed to get all that processing power and program bulk into a phone, and (2) the fact that no advertising will subsidize the cost.