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10th February 2015

Thoughts on voice search and audio content

With the arrival of my new phone, the LG G3, I have been experimenting with Google Now and its audio search. Google is currently running advertising campaigns to promote voice search, with multiple ad spaces throughout London. I was intrigued. ‘Why do I know absolutely nothing about this’ I thought. Well, it was time to find out how good it really was.

Using Google’s voice search for the first time reminded me of Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’, a conceptual film set in the near future which tells the story of a man’s relationship with his OS. The films core thought centres around connectivity and understanding in a world that can feel fast paced and lonely. Interestingly, the mobile phone takes a backseat, rarely being used. What is being used however is a small headset. A majority of the digital communication we see in the film is audio centric.

Up until launching Google Now with my earphones in for the first time, I have to admit, I had never given much thought about using audio for anything other than listening to music. ‘Ok Google, what will the weather be like tomorrow’ I asked. My music stopped, and a voice responded to my question, supported by Google Now’s weather card. This was super new to me. ‘What time are Liverpool playing?’ I went on to ask. The speed and accuracy went beyond what I was expecting. This is an area that Google dominate in. Siri is no where near as good as what Google have here. Plus, with audio integration with the desktop Chrome browser, it’s clear Google are pursuing audio search in a big way.

Why it works

Audio search shines when your on the move. Walking somewhere and being able to quickly ask a question and get an instant answer is fantastic. Its much more natural and much quicker. This means as soon as you think of something you need an answer too, you can ask the question. You don’t need to spend time looking at your phone, scrolling and typing to find information.

Aside from search, Google Now can also do some other handy commands such as adding new reminders or adding events to your calendar. This isn’t new or hugely different to what I could do with Siri. Although, I never used Siri. I found it rather annoying and long winded. I feel it still has a lot of catching up to do, but doesn’t seem like an area of great interest for Apple right now. Where Siri could find new life is integrating it into the Apple Watch and concierging HealthKit. I suppose only time will tell what Apple has in store.

Audio content

For me, the most exciting part of all of this is the ability to serve content through audio. I get off the train, and with a simple voice command, my phone reads me today’s news. Or maybe there’s a delay I need to know about, so my phone lets me know, turning off my music and asking me what I would like to do next, and then serves me the relevant information.

I recently downloaded Umano, an audio content reader. Yesterday I listened to a 20 minute article on Tony Fadell and Nest. I feel I need to give Umano some time before giving an opinion. Right now I’m excited about the concept and also just surprised that this business is growing fast and has a big audience, and I knew nothing about it.

I’m an instant fan of using audio and really want to start using it over the next 3-4 weeks to see if I can integrate it with my lifestyle without making a conscious effort to do so. Right now it’s a little forced and unnatural, but I feel it’s its just going to take a bit of time.

‘Ok Google, end this article’.

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