Kara Swisher

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Liveblogging Google's SF Mobile Event: Voices Actions, Chrome to Phone, No Video-Calling, But Will There Be Donuts?

BoomTown was sitting front row center–better to scare Google Mobile Product Manager Hugo Barra–at the Silicon Valley search giant’s press event in San Francisco this morning.

Google (GOOG) called together a group of reporters to discuss some “cool new features” for its Android operating system.

While many have been expectantly waiting for Google to announce a video-calling offering, to match the Apple (AAPL) FaceTime service, that was not to be here.

Instead, it was a low-key rollout of a few whiz-bang features to ooh and ahh at.

Happily, Google provided unusually delicious donuts, which was my entire reason for coming, because donuts are the pastry to the gods.

Let’s get to it:

10:05 am PT: PR dude Mike Nelson introed Barra, who said there will be two new features announced.

Ooh and Ahh.

First though, we were forced to endure yet another lecture on how important mobile is and where the future is headed that comes from every single company that throws a mobile event.

Mobile is the big show now?

Really? We had no idea this cell phone thing was going to take off! Thanks, Professor Barra!

Barra pressed on with lots of talk about MIPS (millions of instructions per second, which you should care less about, but is important).

Barra said that innovative smartphones were becoming “super-computers in your pocket.”

Again, master of the obvious!

I obviously needed to have a bite of my lovely sprinkle-laden donut to gain some balance.

10:12 am: Barra moved onto voice recognition. He asked the phone movie times in Palo Alto, Calif. and how high the Empire State Building, results which were promptly delivered.

(When my kid asked me on a trip to New York, I just said it was a badillion feet high, which also worked as an answer.)

But such technology is cool, for sure.

But Barra upped the ante by speaking four languages–Spanish, French, Italian and Japanese–to get results. It worked! Get this guy on “The Amazing Race” pronto!

Now, tricks over, it was onto the first product announcement!

And, drum roll…it was a new feature that Google is a calling “Voice Actions” in Voice Search, available today for Android 2.2 Froyo devices.

This sounded like a band name from the 1980s.

Instead, it is the ability to speak into the phone and have it instantly do things, such as sending text messages, automatic dialing and mapping and more, all via speech commands in English.

Speech recognition, natural language processing and semantic Web search–you could kind of do this before on Android, but it was neither seamless nor automatic, said Barra.

He did not say, but Voice Actions is an awful lot like Siri, the mobile app assistant start-up that Apple bought recently.

But there were more on Voice Actions, according to the adorkable demo dude Mike LeBeau, a baker’s dozen (13!) of actions, and there will be more.

He spoke into the phone a request to “Listen to the Decembrists.” Presto (and also props for the hip musical choice)!

Then, LeBeau spoke an email about some scuba diving trip. Presto!

But then he added a smiley face! Unfortunate and decidedly unhip, but presto!

After that, LeBeau kept showing off, setting the alarm clock, going to Wikipedia, doing a search for art galleries in Amsterdam.

10:28 am: Now for product announcement #2.

Barra brought up engineering manager Dave Burke, who built it in his 20 percent time.

It’s a synching feature called “Chrome to Phone.”

This sounded like a 1990s band name.

“It is a low latency way to push information to the phone,” said Burke, using Google’s browser and an app for the mobile device.

There is a little icon on the Chrome browser you click that sends a variety of stuff to the app on an Android phone.

It’s certainly helpful.

10:35 am: Onto Q&A about the two perfectly fine, though hardly earth-shaking, announcements.

Questions about the languages, bookmarking Chrome to Phone (not yet) and what’s coming next.


It was all about solving “pain points” said the Voice Actions dude LeBeau.

All I know is donuts are the only thing that solves my pain points. Presto!

(And here is a post of some videos and screenshots of both Voice Actions and Chrome to Phone to enjoy.)

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