Google has added hands-free Voice Search in a new Chrome beta, steadily bringing Android-like features to its desktop browser.
In the Chrome beta build, all users need to do is open a new tab or visit Google.com, say "Ok Google," and then start speaking a search query. The software will then deliver the same voice-activated search results that Android users already enjoy. The desktop Chrome beta will be rolled out to English (U.S.) users on Windows, Mac and Linux over the next few days, with support for additional languages and Chrome OS coming soon, Google said in a blog post.
If all this sounds familiar, it should. Google added a little microphone icon to the Google.com homepage in 2011, allowing users to simply click the mic and say, rather than type, a search. In November, Google added a Google Search Hotword extension for Chrome and Chrome OS, allowing users to visit Google and not have to click the mic at all, instead using the trigger phrase "OK Google" to launch the search.
Now, by integrating that feature into a beta, Google has eliminated the extension itself. The logical next step? Total integration into the browser and the Chrome OS.
That will inevitably give some pause. At this point, users have to manually enable the "OK Google" feature. Once that's turned on, however, Google will be listening every time you open a new tab, or visit the Google.com homepage.
We've reached out to Google to ask if the service is "listening" when neither condition is met, and what it's doing with the audio it's collecting while listening for the trigger phrase. (According to a Google help page, "Your search will only be sent to Google if you say 'Ok Google' while on a google.com tab and the extension is active. Local processing is done by the extension on your device in order to detect when you say 'Ok Google.'")
Privacy issues aside, however, Voice Search is roughly equivalent to what you can do in Android: perform searches, set appointments and reminders, or set a timer. (Under Android, you can also command Google to open applications and perform other searches.)
Google Voice Search seems useful--although, as my colleague Brad Chacos points out, it would even be more useful with a Moto X-like approach to always-on listening. Will all users share Brad's feelings? That remains to be seen. But one thing's for sure: Google Voice Search integration marches on.