Google told us to expect changes in its search interface and it turns out this was not just talk; in fact, Google wants users to start talking to it. Using technology originally tested on Google Glass, the search engine giant has set up speech recognition as part of its general search services, and using it simply requires adding an update to Chrome.
Unlike Microsoft’s continually-listening Xbox One, Google requires a code phrase to activate it; therefore, it will not continually be starting searches based on conversations the user is having with other people – or with other computers. Once the update is installed, however, there will be no fuss involved and no need to select the microphone every time. The search can be initiated from locations featuring the microphone symbol in the search bar, such as the Google main page or most embedded site search boxes; speak the words "Okay Google" to get things moving, followed by the search terms desired.
Like all speech recognition software, Google’s has its flaws. It struggles to cope with some accents or with polysyllabic words delivered quickly. The adoption of such technology by such a big player, however, has the potential to be transformative. The pressure will now really be on to improve it, and feedback from such a large number of users should help significantly in driving these improvements. This will be a big help to the blind people who rely on speech recognition to be able to use ordinary computers at all.
With Google taking on this technology so soon after Xbox One, other search engines may now need to follow suit in order to guard their share of the market. This pressure is only likely to increase as users adapt to the new technology and start taking it for granted. Despite its teething troubles, it is already good when it comes to simple queries. Many people will find it significantly easier than typing, and some may enjoy the ability to kick off searches while using their hands for other office tasks. Google itself suggests that it will be handy for people eating at their desks.
The official name of the Chrome app required is Google Voice Search Hotword, and it is already available to install. An interesting aspect for those in search engine marketing to follow will be how its use affects the patterns of searches being made. Over time, users who find they have more success with simpler keywords may start searching differently, and businesses will need to keep up if they want the last word.