Android (Nougat) and voice control

7I updated my Nexus 6P to Android Nougat yesterday (I’m on Android Beta Program, so got the OTA immediately yesterday).

Apart from the myriad smaller updates that dot the UX, the one thing that I was most pleased about was the voice control.

I had earlier purchased Nexus 6 (Motorola’s) specifically for the voice control – see this blog post: Nexus 6 – a month later…

But the voice control didn’t work as per my need; it felt primitive and useless… more like a gimmick.

After I updated to Nougat yesterday, the settings screen had 2 suggestions! One was ‘Add another email account’ and the other was, ‘Set up Ok Google’.

I had lost hope with ‘Ok Google’ in Nexus 6 and never bothered to go back to it after the initial disappointment. Yesterday I set it up again in Nexus 6P and gave it a spin.

With Nexus 6, I really wanted to be able to save a note to remind myself of something, while driving. So, I tried ‘Ok Google’, open email, write something blah blah. It was mighty cumbersome to make it work.

Yesterday, I said, ‘Ok Google’ – Open Google Keep for a new note. It opened and asked me for the note. I read it out and it recorded it as a voice file!

Then I tried, ‘Ok Google’ – Open Audible. It opened. I then said, ‘Ok Google, play audiobook’, and it started playing Ted Chiang’s ‘Stories of Your Life and Others’ (which I bought specifically to read the original novella that inspired Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Amy Adams starrer, Arrival – it is a fascinating first contact novella, by the way!).

Then, ‘Ok Google’ – Open YouTube and play Jimi Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower, and within a few seconds the familiar strains of Hendrix’s guitar opened the song!!

I did a search to know when all this started happening in voice control and realized that Google has been constantly improving the functionality of voice control all along. The best part is, unlike Siri (where you need to invoke it using a key press), in Android you can invoke Ok Google in any state of the phone – locked, unlocked.

Now, this feels like the real deal! So I spoke to my phone to start Bluetooth, this morning as I got into the car. I opened the audiobook by asking my phone to and even asked it to take some notes on the way – all completely hands-free (unlike Siri that needs to be invoked with a click)!

It does need a lot more refinement, though. It doesn’t talk back, asking questions to clarify my intent in many cases (it does, when I ask it to call a number, by name, and if there are duplicate entries under that name, I get those spoken back to me with a choice to pick one). That could help in cases like I invoke opening a music app like Saavn and it asking me which album does it want to start playing. If I have a very pointed ask (like the Hendrix song), it works perfectly. Make the ask slightly vague and it merely shows me a list of results it came up with. But, good starting point, from what I was disappointed with Nexus 6’s version.