Rumor: Google To Broadly Expand “OK Google” Voice Actions

OK GoogleAccording to Android Police, Google is preparing a broad expansion of voice actions beyond its search app. The report describes this initiative as “OK Google Everywhere.”

Voice actions would extend to other Google apps (e.g., mail, photos) and would also be contextually specific, taking on Google Now-like capabilities. Currently queries and some app-related commands can be executed by voice but the report suggests a much deeper use of voice together with contextually specific actions:

For example, if you were having a conversation with someone in Gmail, the prompt may suggest replying to that person, or performing actions related to the message chain like finding a movie, looking up the hours of a restaurant mentioned in the conversation, etc. This functionality is probably further out, as it would likely require more build-out on Google’s predictive/assistive technology, but simpler suggestions like composing an email or creating an appointment are already in exploration.

There’s also an accompanying claim about potential navigation/UI changes. The report suggests these capabilities may be limited to Nexus devices. That’s probably unlikely. Indeed, it’s unclear how reliable any of this is.

The assertions, however, are broadly consistent with Google’s gradual transformation of “search” into assistant-like functionality that uses speech recognition, context (time, location) and personal data.

A potentially foreshadowing development was informally announced last week in the context of travel search (hotels, restaurants). Google added enhanced, contextual search capabilities with voice actions:

It’s hard to make last-minute hotel and restaurant reservations in your price range, in the right neighborhood and with the right flair. But now, you can just ask a quick question on your phone—tap the mic on your Android and say “show me some restaurants in downtown Austin.” You’ll see your options and you can swipe to see more, or tap the button to “see all.” If you need a way to make sense of the many options, tap the new filter tool to help you narrow it down by price, ratings, cuisine, and even whether it’s open now. (This works only in the U.S. for now, but stay tuned!) Found the one? Just say “OK Google, call 219 West” and you’re good to go.

The Android Police post also suggests the potential extension of these capabilities into third party apps, beyond basic Google speech recognition. However that’s really speculative and would essentially require Google sharing of user data with third party apps to deliver the Google Now-like functionality discussed. We’ll see.

Google is driven to improve the mobile user experience by a confluence of self-interested and “objective” variables. The company continues to evolve and adapt the PC search experience for the mobile screen and an app-centric user experience. It needs to get users to engage more with Google vs. third party apps. And the market wants Google to drive more mobile revenue.

In last week’s earnings Google disappointed investors by reporting CPCs were down 9 percent vs. 2013. That was widely blamed on mobile.