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.