Google Reveals Voice Access for Android

Google Reveals Voice Access for Android

Google this week highlighted some of the new accessibility features that are coming in Android N, the next version of its dominant mobile OS. Key among them is a featured called Voice Access, which allows you to control the system and compatible apps with your voice.


Voice Access may seem like a response to Amazon’s curiously popular Alexa products like Echo—spoiler alert, my first Echo arrives at Chez Thurrott tomorrow—but as ZD’s Liam Tung points out, Google actually intended to announce this feature at last year’s Google I/O. Point being that Google—like Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon—seems to believe that voice control is going to emerge as a key personal technology user experience in the years ahead.

I think they’re right. And whether you’re rallying behind Google Now/Voice Access, Cortana, Siri or Alexa, any move to improve the voice control capabilities of a mobile OS bears watching.


According to Google, the recently-released (but available only in a limited release) Voice Access Beta app allows users to control their Android devices by voice. For example, you can say “open Chrome” or “go home” to navigate around the phone, or interact with the screen by saying “click next” or “scroll down.” The app is really aimed at people who have difficulty manipulating a touch screen due to paralysis, tremor, temporary injury or other reasons, Google says, but of course the implications are broader.

The Voice Access Beta app is ostensibly available from the Google Play Store, but by the time I got around to downloading it, Google had pulled the app, nothing that “the testing program has enough testers and isn’t accepting more users.” Presumably it will open up to more people soon.

In addition to Voice Access, Google also revealed these other new accessibility technologies coming to Android N:

Accessibility Scanner. This new tool helps developers test their own apps right in Android and then receive suggestions on ways to enhance accessibility. “For example, the tool might recommend enlarging small buttons, increasing the contrast between text and its background and more,” Google notes.

Vision settings. Android N includes an improved Vision settings, which lets people control settings such as magnification, font size, display size and TalkBack. And you can access now from the Welcome screen that appears when you activate a new Android device, too. “Putting Vision Settings front and center means someone with a visual impairment can independently set up their own device and activate the features they need, right from the start,” Google writes.

And of course, Google is improving accessibility elsewhere, too. TheChromeVox screen reader that’s built-in to Chrome OS is being updated with a simplified keyboard shortcut model, a new caption panel to display speech and Braille output, and a new set of navigation sounds. And the firm recently announced that you can now dictate documents with Google Docs.


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