Android Voice Access: Google gives you spoken control over smartphone apps, settings

As part of its accessibility drive, Google has a new app that enables users to control almost everything on their Android smartphone verbally.

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Once Google's Voice Access is installed, items in Settings and apps on the Homepage are numbered.

Image: Google

Google has launched a new beta app called Voice Access, which lets people control their Android phone with voice commands.

For keen Android watchers, Voice Access will sound familiar. Google had planned to tell developers at its 2015 I/O conference how they could add voice control to their apps through an upcoming feature called Voice Access, but then cancelled the talk.

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While fans saw it as a potentially nifty alternative to touchscreen-based controls for apps, Google has now taken the wraps off Voice Access as an accessibility tool to help people who have difficulties using the touch interface, such as those with tremors or paralysis.

Once installed, items in Settings and apps on the Homepage are numbered. The user can tell the device, "Go Home", which is transcribed at the top of the page, and then say, "Open one", to launch the app numbered one.

They could say, "Open Settings" and verbally instruct the device to "Scroll down" to display further numbered settings that can be opened with a voice command.

Google announced the new app in a blogpost on Monday and invited the public to join its testing program. However, as of today -- just 24 hours after the unveiling -- the program is already full, probably with Android fans who are curious about the tech.

"App developers can choose how many testers can participate in their testing program. Once the program is full, the testing version isn't available to more users," Google notes.

But Google did give a relatively small number of followers of the Google Accessibility account on Twitter a headstart with a tipoff in late March about the beta trial.

The beta test follows Google's release of the Accessibility Scanner app, which allows anyone to suggest accessibility improvements for Android apps.

Google Research contributed to a 2014 paper about an app similar to Voice Access called JustSpeak, a voice-control service launched in 2013, which relied on Google's automated speech-recognition services to provide similar functionality.

The researchers explored use cases for blind people, sighted people, and Android "power users", but also unexpectedly discovered that it was really useful for people with dexterity issues.

One of the problems they learned from a JustSpeak beta is that developers are often careless about providing screen controls of their apps with text or content descriptions, which ultimately affected the usefulness of JustSpeak as an accessibility tool.

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