18.01-Voice on today’s smartphones provides the functionality to be more efficient and maximize your productivity-2015-06-17

To become more efficient and productive, humans need to CONSTANTLY ADAPT to new ways of doing things by capitalizing on the powerful functionality offered by newer technologies. Reluctance to change is natural but detrimental if not tamed. Adapting to change is a must these days, especially with the advent of smartphones and tablets that affect every aspects of our daily lives. We therefore need to take full advantage of the functionality they offer if we don’t want to be left behind. This article will help you achieve just that by helping you learn how to best use your smartphone’s Voice functionality.

Some older or retired people will say: why should I care, I am not in the workforce anymore? The answer is simple: it will make your life more enjoyable and keep you up to date on what’s going on around you. It will also help you communicate with your children and grandchildren. It’s a lot easier and more fun to talk to your phone then to type on a small keyboard, there is no doubt about that!

The first step towards using a Virtual Assistant App

The growing trend right now is using Virtual Assistant Apps. A Virtual Assistant App provides answers to the questions you ask and remind you of important things to do in a timely manner, just as a human personal assistant would do if it followed you everywhere you go.

I will present how to use a Virtual Assistant App in a follow-on article to be published soon. Since Virtual Assistant Apps use voice as their primary input mode, it is a good reason to get familiar and start using voice with your smartphone and tablet.

Extract from an article by Thomas Claburn in InformationWeek

“Talking works better. Phones were designed for talking, after all. But many of us still don’t feel comfortable addressing our phones directly. A 2014 Northstar Research study commissioned by Google surveyed 1,400 Americans and found that “only one-quarter of adults speak to their phones when in the company of others.” It’s as if we’re ashamed to be caught talking with our imaginary phone friend.

Among teens, there’s less stigma. Fifty-seven percent of them will query their phones when among other people. So, expect voice interaction to become more common as the population ages and people become accustomed to the idea.

Speech recognition is approaching its idealized depiction in science fiction. In 2011, Microsoft researchers considered an error rate of 18.5% “astonishing.” At Google I/O last month (May 2015), Sundar Pichai, SVP of product at Google, said the speech recognition error rate for Google’s software had reached 8%, down from 23% in 2013.

The technology is certainly usable today, even if we tend to use it for specific types of queries, such as initiating calls and asking for directions. For example, only 9% of adults use voice search to check movie times, according to the Northstar Research study.”

All this to say that using voice to communicate with our electronic devices will continue to grow and will become widespread within a few years. Why not take advantage of it today?

The 3 leading voice technologies

  1. Google Voice: Google Voice Search, Google Now & Google Translate, for Google Chrome and Android smartphone and tablet users.
  2. Apple Siri, for Apple iPhone and iPad users.
  3. Microsoft Cortana for Windows smartphones and tablets users.

Install and/or activate any of these products to start using Voice on your smart devices depending on the technology platform you use.

Apple & Windows device users

Since I am a Google Chrome and an Android user, I am familiar with the Google products functionality. Following my research, they also seem to offer the most advanced voice functionality compared to other voice technologies. Therefore, the rest of this article will present how to use the Google voice products. If you are an Apple iPhone/iPad user or a Windows smartphone or tablet user you will have to search for articles that will help you use these technologies.

You may also consider, since most Google products are also available on Apple iOS, to download and use Google Voice Search, Google Now and/or Google Translate on your Apple products. Then, this article will be useful to guide you on their use.

Using the Google Voice products on Android devices

Google Voice Search

This is the first voice product to use to initiate yourself to the use of voice commands. It should be pre-installed on your Android device. If not, download and install it from Google Play. The icon is a white circle with a Mic inside and the Widget has “Google” on the left and a “mic” on the right.

On an Android device, you should be able to setup Google Voice Search to respond and become ready when you say the words “Ok Google”. To set up for “Ok Google” to respond on any screen on an Android Lollypop 5.0 device, do the following:

  1. Go to device “Settings”.
  2. Under “Controls”, make sure “Voice control” is activated.
  3. Also, under “Controls”, select “Language and Input”.
  4. Then “Voice input”.
  5. Then, select “Enhanced Google services” settings (touch the tractor wheel).
  6. Select “Languages” and activate “English (US)”. I recommend that you select only one language to minimize confusion in language interpretation.
  7. Then, select “Ok Google” detection and make sure “From the Google app” and “From any screen” options are ON. You may be asked to say “Ok Google” three times to configure the detection to your voice.

Using Google Voice Search

Currently, based on my experience, Google Voice Search works best with short questions of 3 to 6 “key words”. For example: “Map of New York” and it will bring you back the map of New York. “Weather in Paris” and it should come back with the answer. Avoid useless words like “show me” or “answer me”, Google Voice Search knows that’s what you want. Stick to the key words. If it does not succeed the first time, try a variation of the key words. It does not mean that you cannot try longer requests, but the success rate may be lower. It does not cost a lot to try! Try what makes sense to you!

NOTES: for compounded requests or more complex requests you will have to complete the request on the screen, like specifying: a place, a time … As for places, for example, you should pre-enter the places you will refer to frequently to make things easier. For example, home, work, shopping stores and other places you visit frequently.

Also, Google Voice Search is programed for common request using the following commands: (Reproduced from the Awesome list of 70 Google Now voice commands). NOTE: I have not checked each command listed below. Some may not work as presented.

General Commands

  • “Search for [chicken recipes]?”
  • “Say [where is the supermarket] in [Spanish]?”
  • “What is [Schrodinger’s cat]?”
  • “Who invented [the internet]?”
  • “What is the meaning of [life]?”
  • “Who is married to [Ben Affleck]?”
  • “Stock price of [Apple]”
  • “Author of [Game of Thrones]”
  • “How old is [Michael Jordan]?”
  • “Post to Google+ [feeling great]”

Notes & Reminders

  • “Remind me to [buy milk] at [5 PM]”
  • “Remind me [when I get / next time I’m at] [home / work / other location] [to send an email to John]”
  • “Wake me up in [5 hours]”
  • “Note to self: [I parked my car in section D]”
  • “Set alarm for [8 PM]”

Time & Date

  • “What time is it in [Tokyo]?”
  • “When is the sunset [in Chicago (optional)]”
  • ”What is the time zone of [Berlin]”
  • “Time at home”
  • “Create a calendar event: [Dinner in New York] [Saturday at 8 PM]”


  • “Call [Daniel]”
  • “Call [mum / dad / wife / uncle / aunt …]”
  • “Send [email] to Daniel, [Subject: Meeting], [Message: Will be there in 5]”
  • “Send [SMS] to Philipp mobile, don’t forget to buy milk”
  • ”[Contact name]”


  • “Weather”
  • “Is it going to rain [tomorrow / Monday]”
  • “What’s the weather in [Boston]?”
  • “How’s the weather in [Portland] on [Wednesday] going to be?”

Maps & Navigation

  • “Map of [Flagstaff]”
  • “Show me the nearby [restaurant] on map”
  • “Navigate to [Munich] on car”
  • “How far is [Berlin] from [Munich]?”
  • “Directions to [address / business name / other destination]”

Conversions & Calculations

  • “What is the tip for [125] dollars?”
  • “Convert [currency / length …] to [currency / length …]”
  • “How much is [18] times [48]?”
  • “What is [45] percent of [350]?”
  • “Square root of [81]”
  • “….. equals”


  • “How are [the New York Yankees] doing?”
  • “When is the next [Los Angeles Lakers] game?”
  • “Show me the [Premier League] table”
  • “Did [Bayern Munich] win their last game?”

Flight Information

  • “Flight [AA 125]?”
  • “Flight status of [AA 125]”
  • “Has [LH 210] landed?”
  • “When will [AA 120] land / depart?”

Web Browsing

  • “Go to [Huffington Post]?”
  • “Open [com]”
  • “Show me [com]”
  • “Browse to [com]”


  • “Listen to / play [Intro] by [The XX]?”
  • “YouTube [fail compilation]?”
  • “Who acted in [Ocean’s 11]?”
  • “Who is the producer of [Gladiator]?”
  • “When was [Alien] released?”
  • “Runtime of [Avatar]”
  • “Listen to TV”
  • “What’s this song?”

Drive / Nest Integration

  • “Search for [document name] on Drive.”
  • “Set the temperature to [72] degrees.”

Custom Voice Actions (3rd party app control)

  • Flixster:“Show me Inception on Flixster.”
  • Instacart:“Show instacart availability.”
  • NPR One:“Listen to NPR.”
  • Shazam:“Shazam this song.”
  • TripAdvisor:“Show attractions near me on TripAdvisor.”
  • TuneIn Radio:“Open TuneIn in car mode.”
  • Walmart:“Scan my receipt on Walmart.”
  • Wink:“Activate home mode on Wink.”

Take the time to learn an experiment with Google Voice Search. Try using it whenever you are looking for something to incorporate it into your normal habits versus typing any request from now on.

Using Google Voice Search with the Google Chrome browser

Since 2014, we can use Google Voice Search with the Google Chrome browser running under Windows, on a Chromebook and most likely Apple’s iOS. To do this, you must activate the “Ok Google” command on the Chrome browser as follows:

  1. In Chrome, click Settings (three small stacked bars) in the upper right corner.
  2. In the “Search” section, check Enable “Ok Google” to start a voice search.
  3. Close Settings.
  4. In Chrome, open a new tab. In the search window, you will see “OK Google” near a microphone. Say “Ok Google” shortly after the opening of the new tab while the computer is waiting for your voice request. If too much time has elapsed, only click on the small microphone to wake him up.
  5. Verbalize your voice command and the computer should respond.

By installing Google Voice Search across all your devices, you can use voice search at any time so that it enters your work habits.

Google Translate

Google Translate is a highly useful App for anyone operating in more than one language or while traveling. For example, I use it all the time to translate each one of my blog article for the French version of this web site at “L’informatique personnelle actuelle”. It is not perfect and the text needs to be reviewed and adjusted, but it significantly cuts down on the time it would require me to translate manually, not counting the time it would require me to retype the text in French. You get better results if the sentences to be translated are short, covers one idea and are written in good English.

Google Translate could be pre-installed on your Android device. If not, download and install it from Google Play. The icon is a capital ‘A” over blue with the word “Translate”. Google Translate is also available on Google Chrome.

Using Google Translate

To use Google Translate:

  1. Start the App.
  2. At the top, touch the language on the left to select the input
  3. Then, do the same on the right to select the output
  4. Notice that once selected, you can reverse the translation languages by touching the two arrows in the middle.

You have four input types:

  1. You can “type” in the text. Just “Touch to type” to select that form of input. The translated text will appear below.
  2. You can “scan” a text. Select the camera icon to scan a printed text and follow the instructions. The printed text selected will be translated.
  3. You can ‘speak” the text by touching the Mic and speaking using the input language. The words will be converted and spoken into the output language while being displayed on the screen.
  4. Finally, you can “hand write” the text using your finger or your S Pen, which does a better job. The handwriting will be interpreted and the interpreted text converted.

As you can see this App is very versatile. While traveling the scan and speak in options can be quite useful. For example, you can scan a menu or instructions to get the text translated. If you ask someone for information, they can speak into the smartphone and you can read and listen to the translation. It can save you a lot of headaches.

Google Map

Once again when travelling, we often need instruction to get somewhere. Google Map is the most recognized and widely used map service. You can easily use voice to search on Google Map and get directions. Here’s how:

  1. Make sure to download and install Google Map, if not already installed on your Android device.
  2. Open Google Map. At the top you have the menu on the left and a Mic on the right. If you touch the Mic, you can ask for a map of your location. For example, ask for ”New York Map” to get the map of New York city. Then, using pinch open and close, you can zoom in or out to find the specific location you want or you can request it by voice. For example, say “Brooklyn New York” to get to Brooklyn.
  3. Then, you can ask for directions from your current location by saying: “Directions to Brooklyn New York” and the step by step directions map will appear. You can use this map as your GPS to drive to Brooklyn New York.

Google Now

The Google Now icon is a big ‘g” on a blue circle. I use the Google Now App but not the Google Now Launcher because the launcher requires me to replace Samsung’s TouchWiz by Google Now which I don’t want to do. I am used to and prefer TouchWiz.

To access Google Now, just touch the Google Now icon which is a big ‘g” on a blue circle.

Once in Google Now, you will see listed different types of info that you can configure at will.

  1. You can customize your favorite sports to get the latest results.
  2. You can customize your favorite stocks to get news and quotes.
  3. You can customize your favorite places to get the weather.
  4. You can customize your favorite everything else if you currently want weather updates for home or work, for example.

Google Now is Google’s product to serve as your virtual assistant. I will publish a follow-on article that will cover how to use and take advantage of a virtual assistant App.

This completes my article on using voice with most of your computing devices. I urge you to learn how to use and take advantage of using voice which is a much easier, enjoyable and productive approach.

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