Google's director of product development Hugo Barra held the audience captive at Google's IO 2012 keynote event this morning as he introduced Google Now, a virtual personal assistant that could give Apple's Siri a run for her money.
Barra started by introducing Android 4.1 Jelly Bean's new voice-to-text capabilities, which will be more accurate than ever.
And unlike in previous versions of Android, dictation also works without a data connection.
Next up came voice search, which Barra said "is much faster, and it speaks back to you using the power of the knowledge graph."
He queried Jelly Bean on the height of the Space Needle, pictures of pygmy marmosets, and, with a grin, the definition of "robot."
Google stressed that they're adding 18 new input languages, as well as features for blind users like an external brail input, improving accessibility for those with specific needs.
Google Now gets personal
Then he brought out the big guns, revealing how Google Now can keep track of users' search histories, calendars and more to stay up-to-date on what they might want.
In effect, a Google Now-equipped device will learn things about its user in order to serve up more relevant information.
Google Now will bring up "cards" with relevant information and notifications.
For example, it can reroute a user's commute if it realizes there's going to be traffic. This is done automatically.
"When you have a calendar event, Google Now will help you get there on time," Barra said.
"If you normally take the bus, it will tell you when to leave and how long the walk will take, as well as when the bus will arrive."
"If you have an upcoming flight that you've searched for, it will keep you updated on the status of the flight."
It can even keep users updated on sports, Barra said, and who knows what else.
In the demos shown off at I/O today, Google Now seems even more competent than Apple's Siri, whose shortcomings often result in hilarious, but inconvenient, errors.
And unlike Siri, Google Now will play the part of digital assistant without the user needing constantly work to access it.
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