Google voice actions got smarter, can now ask for clarification, just like Siri

November 14, 2013

Google Nexus 5 black aa 11

There’s a debate going on between fans of Apple’s Siri and those of Google’s voice command system, about which assistant is better. Until now, Siri had a slight edge, as it was able to talk back to the user in order to clarify a request, whereas Android users had to frame their questions more mechanically.

That changes with the latest update to the Android Search app, which just started rolling out last night. As first spotted by Ron Amadeo from Ars Technica, Google voice search can now talk back to the user when it needs to clarify a command, so the user no longer needs to tap on the microphone button again to issue a new command.

The example that Ron provided is an open-end command, like “send a text message”. Google now understands that the name of the contact is missing and asks “who would you like to text?” When the app is asking questions, the mic icon turns into a blue speaker icon to show that the app is addressing the user. After it registers the contact, the app proceeds to ask for the content of the message, and then asks the user to confirm the sending of the text.


Google Search has been able to make contextual searches for a while now – for instance, if you ask “What’s the capital of France?” and then “How do I get there?”, Search can tell that the second question refers to Paris and offers you the correct result.

Contextual search and this new “talk back” feature are just two of the first milestones on the road to a truly intelligent virtual assistant, that users can interact with as naturally as they talk with a human. Google has made no secret that its ultimate goal is to mimic the intelligence of the computers in the Star Trek TV series, and it’s taking us there, one feature at a time.

Comments

  • Mohammed Sahib

    Actually, Siri’s voice recognition sucks, and can’t be compared to google now. But both of them are far from being really intelligent and useful, to me at least.

    • MasterMuffin

      And is slower too. I bet it first starts searching for a smartass answer before the actual answer to the question :D

      • Mohammed Sahib

        It largely depends on u connection speed. Which is a bummer. Tasks like setting an alarm should not require internet connection in the first place.

        • MasterMuffin

          True dat, but on same wifi devices next to each other GNow is faster

    • dodz

      too right mate, im not american or british but google voice understands 95% of my english accent, siri on the other hand on my moms 4s just says “im sorry” or “I could not understand” lol

    • Mohammed Sahib

      Lol I got voted down! I own an iPhone 5 ffs and I’m fluent in English. Siri is still half baked. Period.

      • Sean Karpa

        Must be some bad english, my experience with either is far from prefect but Siri, IN MY EXPERIENCE, works better. I guess it just requires clear, proper, english.

        • Jaime

          For a lot of people who read this site English is our second or third language. In my work I talk almost daily with partners on USA. Still siri fails more than Google now for me.

    • Tuấn Ankh

      Agree the second part, lol. So far there have been only 3 questions I ask Google Now
      1. What’s the weather like
      2. Will I need an umbrella tomorrow
      3. How tall is Barack Obama

      I ask the 3rd question whenever I get bored and don’t know what to do xD

  • lbaxter80

    The one thing that frustrated me with Google Now was that it wouldn’t auto-send a text, or ask me if I wanted to send it once it was composed. Thankfully, that is now corrected.

  • Jason Yuen

    I think artificial intelligence is at an awkward phase right now. I still look at my phone as a tool. Not an assistant. I still ask google now questions like it’s a 5 year old. Without a more personified interface, it’s hard to take advantage of features like contextual searches simply because you look at it as a dumb tool.

    • A_Noyd

      I look at my next door neighbor the same way. lol

      “I still look at my phone as a tool.”

    • NeedName

      IBM is releasing an API for Watson, their supercomputer, so it can be used with apps. . . haven’t read much about it, but certainly more in the direction of what you are looking for.

      Nonetheless, this new update does something needed, allows for easier hands free functions when driving.

      • Guest

        It does nothing you couldn’t do on Android (S Voice, Dragon, Vlingo, etc.), iOS (Siri), or even Windows Phone (Stock functionality, since 7.0 RTM). That’s a pretty bleeping long time to introduce something like this…
        I’ve found Google Now to be utterly useless for a number of reasons:
        1. It doesn’t tend to surface things that I personally would want on there, and some things simply aren’t supported at all. If you aren’t interested in any of the sports they support, for example, it’s useless for that.
        2. Typing stuff like Website following to Chrome Sync… Thanks, but no thanks.
        3. Very Limited Feature Set compared to Samsung, Apple, Nuance offerings…
        4. I’ve found the cards UI to be more of a PITA than anything. Mistakenly swiping away cards when trying to get a better grip on your phone, for example. Too many things, like Weather, shuttle you to web pages.
        5. It gets too much of its information from Wikipedia. I do like Wikipedia, and use it a lot, but those little snippets are worthless. They need Wolfram Alpha support like Siri and S Voice.
        6. Poor integration with Social Services like Facebook and Twitter, even Google+ integration is AWOL which gives me another reason to ignore it.
        7. That stupid persistent weather notification. How the bleep do I get rid of it? It’s driving me so mad that I’m this close to just disabling Google Now on my phone…
        8. Not everyone uses Gmail. Needs to be able to work with the Stock Email application on the device. The GMail app simply isn’t usable to me. I can’t even attach an Office Document to an email unless I discard it and start over from the Share Menu in the file manager or an office app… No formatting controls (bold, italics, underline), among several other shortcoming…

  • Richard Borkovec

    I tried the “send a message” thing just now, and wow is it awesome! Seems like this was a feature they always wanted, but waited until the right moment to put it in. I’m glad they did :)

  • Sadman Pinon

    when is this update coming to play store? i cheked it now and it is not there. and i tried to download from android police but that one is not installing

  • njgirl

    I’m so frustrated I still haven’t seen an update to my hangouts and Google search despite the fact I’m running Android 4.1

  • Alu Zeros

    Nice, about time. Now they just need I bring headphone physical volume buttons to non Bluetooth headphones

  • NeedName

    not showing up for the gNexus. . . still on the old version and doesn’t show the new version as an update. . .

    • guest

      It’s rolling out slowly. I have the Nexus 5 and I don’t even have it yet.

      • NeedName

        hu? I thought the N5 came with it as part of 4.4, and this is just an update to the Google play store. . . . color me confused.

        • Tony Morgan

          It’s an update to the google voice search APPLICATION.

          Mine came through a few hours ago

          • NeedName

            I got it as well, but sure the N5 had it as stock. . . .

            better hands free use in the car. . . much needed.

  • David Hartman

    Yes. You can now send a message without even touching your phone. Too bad you can’t send the alleged message through Hangouts, which of course is the app El Goog wants us to use for our SMS messaging. Things that make you go “hmmmm…”

  • Guest

    In my limited testing, it is still worse than both S Voice and Siri as far as being “conversational” is concerned. She seems to just “give up” sometimes and then backing out of the conversation (to get back to Cards view) is awkward. You have to go through every screen of the conversation. I much prefer S Voice to this, especially with it’s Wolfram Alpha integration (Google Now cites Wikipedia too much, which doesn’t really pull in much userful information).

    • Guest

      It also runs a search after you tell it to send the message:
      “Do you want to send this message.”
      “Yep”
      “Sending Message”
      *** Search results for “Yep” pop up***

  • Dhiren Pathak

    Perfect :)

  • Hamed

    I don’t get Google now services on my KitKat, only because Google doesn’t allow location history and device tracking in Iran. What a stupid policy.