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Google enhances Android voice search features, adds Chrome-to-phone tool

Google continues to enhance the Android experience with two new features announced today that continue to reduce the need for an actual keyboard.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive on

Today marks a trifecta of news for Google's Android - the release of the Droid 2 for Verizon, Gartner data that shows a big leap in market share and, now, the release of two new features for Android phones running the latest (Froyo) software.

At a press event at Google's offices in San Francisco, the company announced an enhanced Voice Search feature, now with "voice actions," as well as a new tool that allows users to send information from the desktop Chrome browser to the Android device with a single click.

The headlines themselves are pretty straight forward but the power was in the demos. Certainly, the Voice Actions experience was pretty much flawless during the demo, given the office setting is a controlled environment. But the team stressed that voice recognition on these devices gets better by the day and that those improvements are what has allowed the addition of a dozen voice actions.

For example, users can now speak things like "Directions to 1000 Broadway in New York," and the device will instantly launch the maps app and bring up the directions. Users can also say "Text to John Smith Can't wait for the big game tonight Exclamation Point." And it also has a built-in feature that allows users to choose an alternate word for those that may have been misunderstood by the device.

The second feature - called Chrome to Phone - involves the use of an extension for the Chrome browser on the desktop and an app on the Android device (Froyo only, for now). To send the web page to the mobile device - optimized for the mobile screen, of course - users click on a phone icon in the browser. Likewise, highlight a phone number on a Web page and click the phone icon to prompt the device to dial that number.

The features are free and, for now, are just for Android devices, though the company is still working on the features for other platforms. Likewise, there are a number of enhancements that are already on the wish list - such as a reverse process that allows users to send something from phone to browser or a history for the voice actions that would allow users to access them again later.

In the overall picture of what Google has been doing to enhance Android, the two new features are relatively small and simple. In fact, the Chrome to Phone feature is something that Engineering Manager Dave Burke built in his "20 percent time," the workday time that Google employees are encouraged to use to work on their own dream projects.

Still, it's these sort of enhancements that make the Google Android platform that much more appealing to users. As keyboard technology becomes more varied - physical, touchscreen or both on some devices - an option of using voice instead of finger tap becomes that much more appealing.

And consumers like it, too. The company said that 25 percent of all mobile searches are conducted via voice search on Android 2.0 devices.

The new features are being rolled out today, but to Froyo-powered devices only. The feature is pre-installed on the Droid 2, which was released today.

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