Talking tech since 2003

Voice recognition and voice control aren’t new — not even close — but not many devices actively listen for voice commands. In most cases, the user has to press a button to get a smartphone, laptop or tablet to start listening. Notable exceptions include Microsoft’s Kinect devices for both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, as well as the Moto X smartphone, where Google introduced the “OK Google” search feature for the first time.

That same “OK Google” command, which tells the Moto X it should start listening for voice commands, has now made its way to Chrome for the desktop as an extension, giving users the ability to search Google without having to click a button each time they want to use voice search. I’ve been playing around with it this morning and do see it being useful in certain scenarios, though you might be out of luck if you ask a question that Google can’t articulate an answer to.

First off, I think it’s important to note that the “OK Google” feature for Chrome isn’t even close to being as powerful as the feature on the Moto X. It only works with and you have to get to the website the old fashioned way before you can start searching via voice. Once you’re on Google, as long as you’re using voice, you’re stuck there. This is no big deal if you are asking questions that Google can answer, especially because Google’s trusty text-to-speech function will kick on and read the answer to you out loud. But asking, for example, “How many touchdowns has Nick Foles thrown this year?” will bring back a list of search results pages, and you won’t get the answer you’re looking for unless you use a mouse to click on a result.

The “OK Google” feature also doesn’t stay alive forever. Once you visit Google Search, you have a finite amount of time before the hotword detection turns itself off, forcing you to click the microphone icon in the search box to turn it back on (Update: You can actually disable the auto-shutoff in the extension’s Options menu by unchecking the “Stop listening for Ok Google after 5 minutes” option). The feature is also unusable if you jump to another tab — the tab must be at the forefront for “OK Google” to work.

I like that Google is pushing the browsing experience forward, at least on, and as I stated earlier, I can imagine some scenarios where this feature could come in handy. But I feel like we won’t really get the full benefit of “OK Google” and its hotword detection until we’re able to control more. Even adding in support for Gmail and Google Voice (imagine sending/receiving emails and texts using voice) would be a start. Perhaps this is something we’ll see on Chromebooks in the future. In any case, you can go download the official Google Voice Search Hotword extension from the Chrome Web Store right now.

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