Android KitKat Voice Commands

In Android KitKat (I am doing this on a Nexus 5 running Android 4.4.2) You can do many things, possibly even most things, using voice commands. This capability is built into something called Google Now, which is Google’s answer to Apple’s Siri, and which I believe already surpasses Apple’s product. Whether or not you agree with that assessment, learning to use it’s power is important to getting  the most out of your smart phone experience. Google Now was introduced in Android 4.1 Jellybean, but the best experience is on the KitKat, so if you have an older phone you may not have all of the features I will discuss here. That’s just the nature of technology these days. Also, you should keep in mind that Google Now is more than just voice commands, but for this article I want to focus just on the voice capabilities.

Trendblog put together an infographic listing many of the commands available, which I encourage everyone to take a look at. It is reasonably comprehensive. I will not attempt to go into every single command they list, but what I would like to do is pick out a few of the most used commands and show how they can make your life easier. I have some other sources that I consulted in putting this together which I have listed ta the end of this article.

Google Now is accessed in KitKat by dragging your finger from the left margin of the screen to pull it in from the left. Then, just say “OK, Google” to give it a command. But you can give voice commands without opening Google Now. Just open the phone and say “OK, Google”. For instance, try saying “OK, Google. List of voice commands”. This will return a web page of results from Google listing a number of articles on the subject. So you can dive into this within the phone and get started. For people using the new MotoX phone, you can even get into it hands-free by saying “OK, Google Now” anywhere within range of the phone and have it execute. Those of us on the Nexus 5 still have to open the phone first. And they are starting to move some of these capabilities for voice search to the desktop as part of the Chrome browser.

Now, I think there are several things worth emphasizing about using voice commands. The first is that for those of us a bit older who haven’t been typing with our thumbs since we were children, using the keyboard to type things is not quite as smooth as on a full-size computer keyboard. So using voice commands makes the phone much easier to use. The second point is that by its nature voice commands let you use the phone in a hands-free mode, and there are just times you can’t do things by typing, such as while driving. These are the two things that make me happy using voice commands. But in the final analysis, isn’t voice communication  the first things everyone learns to do, and the most natural way to communicate? So why not communicate with your phone that way? But one thing you need to be aware of is that this is still not perfect, and Google Now may not always understand you, particularly if you use unusual names. I used the name “Penguicon” in one search, and got “penguin khan”, not quite the same thing. But the more you use it the more it learns about you and the more accurate it gets.

Note: For all of these commands you should assume they start with “OK Google”

Google Now can access information that Google has, for instance the contents of your mailbox if you use Gmail. If you make travel arrangements and use Gmail to keep the confirmations, Google Now will know that you have a flight, that you have a car reservation, that you have a hotel reservation, etc. And it can tie those things together with useful information, such as giving you driving directions from the car rental place to your hotel. And you can check the status by using voice commands:

  • “What’s my flight status?”
  • “Is my flight on time?”
  • “Show me my reservations”
  • “Where’s my hotel?”

Again, this is only something you can do if this data is already in your Gmail account.

If you have data in Google+ Photos, you can have them displayed. Note that the quality of your captions and tagging will affect the results, but I did this one:

“Show me my photos of Ohio LinuxFest”

And it worked great. I did indeed pull up my photos and they were ones from Ohio LinuxFest.

Then I tried:

“Show me e-mail from Cheryl O’Brien”

And this pulled up, in order:

  1. Cheryl’s card on my Contact page with her photo and contact information
  2. E-mail she had sent me.
  3. Web search results of limited usefulness. There are a lot of people named Cheryl O’Brien, and my wife is not anywhere near the top result.

If you use Google Calendar you can get information about appointments:

“When is my next appointment”

This did pull up the next thing on my Google calendar. Unfortunately my calendar for work is not on Google, so I can’t use it there. But any personal items placed on Google Calendar do get returned.

You can also create appointments by voice:

“Create a calendar event Church tomorrow at 11am”

Now this is not quite what I would want. It creates the event, but to finish the deal you need to press a button on the screen. Still, pressing one button is a lot easier than opening the calendar app, finding the right day and time, and creating the event manually.

Reminders are also useful. Google Now stores these as “cards” and will pull them up and notify you at the appropriate time. You can see your reminders by pressing the icon at the bottom that looks like a finger with a string tied on it.

“Remind me to go to Church tomorrow at 11am”

Again, you need to press a button to accept this, but it still is pretty useful.

Reminders can also be tied to a location instead of a time.

“Remind me to update Changepoint when I am at work”

This works if Google Now knows where “work” is, but it usually figures that out pretty quickly. If you go to the same place 5 days a week it isn’t exactly rocket science to figure this out, but if not you can specify this by going to Maps, pressing the menu button, then Settings, and then “Edit home or work”, and put in the precise location for each. But don’t be surprised if you find it is already set. BTW, this is also useful for Navigation. Wherever you are you can just tell Navigation to take you home.<g>

And of course you might want to know what the weather is going to be:

“What will the weather be tomorrow?”

“What will the weather be in Lansing on Monday?”

Of course, this is a phone, so you might want to make a phone call from time to time<g>:

“Call Cheryl”

And Navigation is also easy:

“Navigate to Detroit by car”


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