Google’s long stated vision, if not obsession, is turning your smartphone into the Star Trek computer. A key part of the computer on the Enterprise is that the primary means of interaction is through voice. The entire process mimics more asking a person a question rather than the ‘typing out what you want to know into a search box’ process that has made the Google so well known.
To meet this goal, the company has been continually doing massive research and investments into speech recognition and machine understanding. The latter is Google’s Knowledge Graph, announced in 2012, that understands concepts and their relationships between things.
These massive investments in speech recognition and Knowledge Graph ultimately culminated with Google Now. If ever there was a thing that paralleled the Star Trek computer in real life, it would be Now and its ability to provide verbal responses to verbally-asked questions. Now, Google is pushing the tech even further with Marshmallow and the new Nexus devices…
Over time, you could do more than just ask questions, as Google Now received the ability to send text messages, set alarms, and do other actions. Now’s role in a modern Android device has grown exponentially since its launch in 2012. Once confined to the homescreen, it can now be activated via a hotword whatever you’re doing on your phone. Importantly, this does not require a whole new operating system. The feature gets better and better through updates to the Google app via the Play Store.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow introduces several new features which reaffirm how Google really wants users to talk to their phones. New APIs allow developers to take advantage of voice actions that use to be limited to higher level system actions.
The result is the ability to navigate through an app via your voice in a conversation-like manner. During a demo at Google’s September event, a user asked to “listen to NPR.” The phone opened the app and asked whether they wanted to resume the last program or catch up with the latest news. A user is now able to open, navigate, and accomplish a task all with their voice, never once having to tap the screen.
With the latest Nexus phones, users don’t even need to tap the power button due to the device always listening for “Ok Google” even when the screen is off. Additionally, they can pick up the hotword when the device is in your pocket or from across the room, and do so without sucking down your battery. Not only is this futuristic, but extremely convenient on the go when one is not able to look at their phone.
The most notable visual sign of the desire for users to talk to their phones more is how the Voice Actions shortcut replaced quick access to the phone on the lockscreen in Marshmallow. Google’s commitment to voice can even be seen when Google redesigned their logo. The Voice Actions UI was drastically revamped with the new logo. The company added a whole new element to the Google brand to better put a visual flourish and trademark to voice actions. The 4 dots in Google colors jump up and down as you are speaking and spins as it reads out/completes a reply.
Ultimately, creating the Star Trek computer has the ulterior motive of locking you into Android (and, since this is Google, learning as much about you as they can). The work to replicate these features which consumers would find convenient requires massive amounts of groundwork. This level of advance of voice actions is not found on any other OS and with good reason.
As how the characters in Star Trek could ask questions wherever they were on the Enterprise, Android phones in 2015 let you do that with the phone in your pocket — whenever you want. To most, the idea of building a Star Trek computer might be gimmicky, but as you can see Google has already done that for you and that idea of the future is already in your pocket.